Startup Wisdom by Sam Altman

“Y Combinator is not just an accelerator program, its a community. When people join YC they know they’re joining the community. We make special efforts in tying our alumni together and just keeping our community well knit. It’s a big part of what we do.” -Sam Altman

I cannot even try to put in words how I felt the day I met Sam Altman, the President of Y Combinator to attend his Fireside Chat. For years I had heard about what a legend the YC partners were; finally meeting one in person was more than a fan-girl dream come true. In this post I have attempted to capture his advice to startups.

Advice to Founders:

“As a startup founder, there are a lot of things you could be doing, but very few things you should be doing” — Sam Altman

On Product:

  1. Do things that don’t scale. Scalability should not be what you think about (at least initially).
  2. Achieve purity in thought of why you’re doing what you’re doing, and then pivot the business model accordingly if need be.
  3. Test and learn. Always be doubling; growth, numbers, users and more.
  4. Keep evaluating your growth rate every two weeks.
  5. Don’t set out to build Billion dollar companies. Don’t focus on killing your competition. Focus only on creating impact and changing the industry.
  6. Focus on one metric. Your whole team should know what the goals are and work together towards it.
  7. You must learn that you can’t change everything, and you can’t compete with your competition for every feature. Find your niche/USP and believe in it.

“Focus on building value, not valuation.” — Sam Altman

On Talent:

  1. Learn how to evaluate talent. Ask yourself what characteristics you are looking for when you hire someone.
  2. People are the most important part of a startup. Don’t put skill above character when hiring.
  3. First ten hires should be like your mini founders, who really share the passion and believe in the product.

“Intelligence is NOT important, perseverance is.”

On Users:

  1. Question your users. Ask them why they do what they do and don’t do, and how they do it.
  2. Follow your user. Spend time with at least one user every week.
  3. User feedback is always critical. When we look back, I see that our success points were purely based on listening to our users intently.
  4. PR/Press/Media is all glamour. Your 100% focus should be on your customer.
  5. Change behavior but not by telling customers how to do things, but by doing differently yourself, what they already do.

Partners and Mentors at YC never give answers to your questions, because they don’t know your users and products as well as you do — they only ask the right questions.”Anisa Mirza

“Lastly, focus on growth, talk to users, keep your burn rate low, and never stop building your network!”

Panel at Make School:



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Rumaisa Mughal

Design Strategist | Anime Fanatic — People & Stories Make My Day!