Startup School

It’s a rainy day in Cambridge and I am stuffed in an auditorium with 500 other like-minded technologists and investors. Paul Graham has set up this one day conference to help spark new tech start-ups into action. More to come as the day goes on. I am recording the sessions, but acoustics are poor so I am not sure that I will podcast this. We’ll see.

Langley Steinert (TripAdvisor) provides solid recommendations for startups. Minimum start $500k-$1m. Keep at least 12 month burn in reserve.

Marc Hedlund (O’Reilly) lists companies he is interested in: Adaptive Path, Bloglines, , Feedburner, Flickr, Indico, Jotspot, Koders, Odeo, Project Placesite, Spike Source, Splunk, Squid Labs, 37 Signals,, Zimbra.

Qi Lu (VP of engineering, Yahoo!) is demoing the beta Yahoo! mail running AJAX. Built on the Outpost acquisition. Search application is strong. 2 billion messages a day on current platform. Social bookmarking (My Web 2.0) is also mentioned. Outreaching for Developer Network. Yahoo! music player with new APIs. Working with the Entpreneur community by investing in companies that use Yahoo! APIs. Qi makes the arguement that as a startup you call enjoin in Yahoo! and not worry about scale (both in traffic and data process).

After the break we heard from Hutch Fishman. He’s been the founding CFO of quite a few start ups including Sonus Networks, Viaweb, Winphoria Networks, VideoServer, and Family Education Network. He is current CFO of cMarket and Veveo (in stealth mode).

Paul Graham is speaking now (Y Combinator). Ideas for startups. He’s on a great riff. I sure hope the audio is good enough to cast this, meanwhile, full text of his speech here

David Cavanaugh (Partner, Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr) is up. Intellectual Property for Startups. He is using the Babcock Grabber to illustrate all the points in the IP question. (Patents, Trade Secrets, Copyrights, and Trademarks)

Michael Mandel (Chief Economist, BusinessWeek) believes the US has unique ability with respect to the rest of the world to provide for an enviroment for startups. The role of Venture Capital is not to give out money, it’s to throw you out if you are not executing well on the good idea.

Steve Wozniak gets a standing ovation at the end of his recant on the start of Apple.

Woz is an active Segway polo player. He has been having problems with his back (sounds like he may need surgery?) and he jokingly remarks, “As long as you have enough gadgets you dont need your health.”

Seeds of invention. Apple, was accidental for Steve: Making the computer small with less parts was a game to him. He goes on to say that just because a system is set up a certain way before you design what you want, does not mean that you need to use that same design set up when you go to task. We should establish our values early on and write them down. Later on, if we are confronted with a choice in direction consult back to those early writings on value.

Mark Macenka (Goodwin Procter LLP) The great value of avoided mistakes. Important of study and analysis of the market opportunity. He goes on to speak of the incredible continuing requirement to remain focused and that the requirement (or failure) to solicit strategic and tactical advice on business legal issues makes or breaks the startup. Mark drills into Capital Structure, IP recurring problem areas, founder’s issues.

Start and stay organized. Do it right the first time with advisers that know what they are doing. Someone in the company must be compulsive. Give corporate and legal matters the same respect as your source code, lab notebooks, engineering documents.

Stan Reiss (GP Matrix partners) Your First Round should be the worse terms you ever negotiate in the life of the Company. Very small number of VC are associated with the overwhelming bulk of successful companies. Make the decision with a lot of care.

Stephen Wolfram (Founder, Wolfram Research) Origins of complexity. Steve wanted software tools to help solve his complex problems, so he built the tools himself. June 1988, Mathematica v1 released. This man has a brillant mind.

Like a telescope he was discovering computational relationships in all things using it. Here was symbolic programming and discovering the essence of things. He wanted to get down to the primitives. On business: if you delegate without understanding things tend to get messed up. You cannot delegate the core motivation of running the company.

Steve’s company is not a formula run company, but one run on underlying principles. alot of business is thinking practically.

While I am listening, it is amazing to see him speak. He seems to be speaking extemporaneously, yet on the main screen we are viewing a large triangle with many various sized triangles as he continues to refer back to his laptop.

At the core of something successful is something very difficult. Applications in nanontech, biotech, pattern recognition, security. Despite the total esoteric nature of Steve’s research, he as developed Wolfram Tones by doing searches in the computational universe. Wolfram Tones used for cell phone ring tones!

The outcome cannot easily be predicated based on the simple starting algorithm. Building a company for acquisition and not long term benefits allows those that try that to get away with a lot of things that will blow up in 10 years that wont in 5. Growth vs revenue? Steve seems to believe that it is not an either or problem.

Chris Sacca (Principal new Business Development, Google) Shepherd of stray thoughts
Larry and Sergei…just got to hacking.

  1. Just start. Just start coding. Have an idea of what you want to do. Focus on user experience.
  2. Solving a user problem will give you the reward in the end.
  3. Go big!
  4. Cheap to demo!
  5. Geeks rule! Acquisitions are for talent.
  6. Food! People bond over food. Head chef, Charlie, was employee #40.
  7. Be Open

Organize the worlds information and make it universally acceptable and useful.
Chris shows a gigapixel photo where you can drill down..waay down ala Bladerunner. There is information if you know where to look for it.

5 million terabytes of information are estimated to be available online. Google has about 170m terabytes.
how many diff ways can you color an icosahedron with one of 3 colors on each face?

Looks like Google is moving to set up a campus in boston? If interested, send email to

How does Google evaluate? They want to see what you’ve got. Does it work? Google rarely look at code first. They are most interested in open source that is extensible and scalable to millions of users. Again, they acquire for talent.

Olin Shivers (Assoc Prof, Georgia Tech; Co-Founder, Smartleaf)

Random walk through Startup space

choosing co-founders
bad choices

exponential tail-off
founders: papal land grant
first 10 ; small integer %
everyone else might get a price of a condo, plus an education + a rolodex

Stock options and money. No shame in talking about $ and options. You are not doing this for fun you are doing it for money. Possible alternative reason, you are a revolutionary.

Venture Capital: souless agents of satan or just clumsly rapists?

Inferred character traits of VC: Technical depth, managerial executive experience, unafraid to be contgrarian, nerves of steel , can handle this. This is emprically wrong on every point.

Failure is part of the process. There will be pain. After a defeat, you should acknowledge your opponent (ala Judo). “Thank you for what you have taught me”.
Easy to say , hard to do.

You need a high tolerance for feeling like a moron.
Can you handle permantely residing outside your comfort zone.
You need courage
why shouldn’t you do significant things in this one life, however you define significant r. hamming
principally, deficit of courage.

“Scientific profess advances in units of courage not intelligence.”

Recommends: Sutherland’s “Technology and courage”, and Hammings “You and your research.

You’re a loser until you are a hero. “Life in academe means learning to manage uncertainty ” A. Newell.

Lots of quotes and quick sound bites. Be stubborn, be flexible. Its only an addiction if you try to stop. Only way any of this works is if you are really into it. Stand where lightening strikes. Optimize your people, locale, culture idea.

Best quote: “All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dream with open eyes, to make it possible.” TE Lawrence

Quotes Ramanujan too.

Be a master of technology. Family man vs warrior monk. Age plays a part. Beware the groove. Grad school. Are you a scholar or businessperson?

His privacy agreement example: keeping it simple and succinct!

Barring compulsory legal process we do not release individual information about our clients to any outside parties at all.

More to say later. Hopefully pictures and sound. It’s 3:30 and we just got in after having a great party with the folks at HeyLetsGo. They look similar to Upcoming.

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