Startup School Remix

Some thoughts on a day of listening about startup success stories.
Sunday, April 30, 2006

I’m always somewhat disappointed in these technology conference/summit things. I go in with the expectation that someone much smarter and much more successful than I will have at least one piece of fantastic wisdom that will enlighten me. Invariably I am disappointed, and it is not because the speakers are not much smarter than me (they are) or much more successful (they are). It is because they have learned the same things in their experiences as I have, and honestly, most of it is all common sense.

Joe Kraus and Paul Graham gave the most interesting talks, though they summed up roughly the same advice as the other speakers did, which is the same advice you always hear for starting a company, technology-based or not:

  • Be dedicated
  • Solve a problem you have
  • Listen to your users
  • Hire smart

There are other pieces of advice that are thrown in, but those are the keys. Sounds so simple, doesn’t it?

Om Malik’s talk was the most entertaining, as he started off by contradicting Paul’s final thesis on how starting a company is not about money, but instead about respecting time (make a living quickly, so you can have the rest of your life to yourself). Om put it quite simply: “It is always about the money.”

The second talk of the day was given by Paige Mailliard, an attorney from Wilson Sonsini. She spoke about the legal ins and outs of starting a company, how equity should be structured, why you need a lawyer from the start, etc. Given what would typically be construed as dry material, her talk was actually rather interesting, and she came off as the most approachable lawyer I’d ever spoken, too. Sadly, her colleague who spoke later did not leave me with the same feeling.

Chris Sacca, the head of special initiatives (whatever that means) at Google, gave a passionate speech coupled with entertaining slides about the state of the startup world, but it really came across as just a plug for recruiting at Google and a plea for people to send him email, even though he already gets 1400 a day.

It was great to hear Tim O’Reilly speak. He has always been a luminary in the technology world, and I’ve always figured he have good things to say. He spoke about how to look at the future, and used examples from O’Reilly Media as illustrations. His points were interesting, but I felt like he was doing PR for O’Reilly more than necessary, given that everyone in the audience owned at least one of his books.

The final speaker of the day was Joshua Schachter, who fits the “geek” mold to a “t.” This is not a bad thing, but for a guy who sold his social bookmarking company to Yahoo! recently, after having dedicated a little less than a year to it, I was surprised to see such large sweat rings under his arms. I mean, seriously, “You’re talking to a group of mid-twenties geeks just like you were. There’s nothing to be nervous about.” That said, he did have the single best piece of advice for the day: keep a log of all your ideas and revisit it once in a while to review ideas that may have seemed bad at the time but could be great now.

All that said, I’m glad I went.