HIPLegal’s Takeaways from Session 3 of “How to Start a Startup” – “Counterintuitive Parts of Startups, and How to Have Ideas”

HIPLegal is hosting a brown-bag lunch series for entrepreneurs, to watch and discuss videos of an exciting educational series, “How to Start a Startup.” Sam Altman, President of Y Combinator, is teaching this series as a class at Stanford this fall and is making the classes available online. Along with guest lecturers like Marissa Mayer, Peter Thiel, and Ben Horowitz, he will be covering the fundamentals: how to come up with ideas and evaluate them, how to get users and grow, how to do sales and marketing, how to hire, how to raise money, company culture, operations and management, business strategy, and more.

HIPLegal is holding a weekly brownbag lunch to view and discuss each session on Wednesdays from 11:30-1pm at our office (20195 Stevens Creek Blvd., Suite 250, Cupertino). We watch one video per week (50 minutes) and then hold a discussion for about 40 minutes. We brainstorm ideas, bounce them off each other, and refine them over the course of the series. This is a 20 session program that should be a great program for anyone who is in the process of starting a company or is thinking about one day diving into entrepreneurship. The full curriculum and the videos to date are here.

Please fill out the survey here and let us know if you are interested in attending the series with us.

Session 3 – Paul Graham, Founder, Y Combinator, on “Counterintuitive Parts of Startups, and How to Have Ideas.”


Counterintuitive Parts of Startups:

If you follow your instincts, they will lead you astray. Only trust your instincts when it comes to people. Work with people you genuinely like and respect and have known for a while. According to Graham, the advantages of hiring people you like outweighs the risk of a monoculture. [HIPLegal query: This answer gave us pause. There is a serious problem with the startup community remaining a predominantly young white male monoculture. But Graham’s statement seems to perpetuate the problem rather than identify solutions that can be implemented. Graham’s response to a question from a woman asking about women not being funded by VCs highlights another gender issue in funding. His answer is that women just have to be more successful, to overcome the bias, because a growth graph doesn’t have a gender. Y Combinator and Graham himself are in a position to be on the leading edge of addressing this problem, rather than just acknowledging that it exists and stating that women need to be better than men to succeed in this space. Despite Graham’s live comments, he has acknowledged the problem in the past, as has YCombinator. You can find their more thoughtful views on Sam Altman’s blog and Paul Graham’s essay on this topic.]

What you need to succeed in a startup is expertise in your own users. Make something people want.
You can’t game the system when it comes to startups – there are no “tricks.” This makes it hard for people who have learned about gaming the system through school. In the end, there is no short cut or trick for making a successful startup.

Startups are all consuming. Starting a company will take over your life. Carefully consider whether to start in your 20s, as you will start a pace that will not slow down – the volume of worries just increases. You can’t be both a student and found a startup. This is something we don’t discuss, because no one really has sympathy for an incredibly successful entrepreneur, but, as “king,” [or “queen”] founders can never show fear or weakness. [HIPLegal query: Is this still relevant today? Yes, confidence is important, but there is value to the people you are leading seeing you as someone they can relate to (as long as it does not debilitate you as a leader), and everyone has fear and weaknesses.]

How to have a good life? Starting a startup is not the answer.

How to Have Ideas:

You can’t tell yourself to think of good startup ideas. Take a step back and turn your brain into the type that has startup ideas. For example, learn about things that “matter” [Graham didn’t define what this is], work on things that interest you, and work with people you like and respect. Many of the most successful companies today were side projects initially, started because the founder was interested in the subject, and wanted to find a way to solve his or her own problem.

Pay attention to ideas on the fractal or leading edge of tech – “live in the future.” Cultivate genuine intellectual curiosity and “just learn.”

On Wednesday, October 15th, we will watch Session 4, Adora Cheung, Founder, Homejoy, on “Building Product, Talking to Users and Growing.” Sign up here if you can join us. Email if you’d like to participate by phone.