Twice a year in the heart of Silicon Valley, a small investment firm called Y Combinator selects an elite group of young entrepreneurs from around the world for three months of intense work and instruction. Their brand-new two- or three-person start-ups are given a seemingly impossible challenge: to turn a raw idea into a viable business, fast.
Each YC session culminates in a demo day, when investors and venture capitalists flock to hear pitches from the new graduates. Any one of them might turn out to be the next Dropbox (class of 2007, now valued at $5 billion) or Airbnb (2009, $1.3 billion).
Randall Stross is the first journalist to have fly-on-the-wall access to Y Combinator. He tells the full story of how Paul Graham started this ultra exclusive institution, how it chooses among hundreds of aspiring Mark Zuckerbergs, and how it teaches them to go from concept to profitability in record time.
©2012 Randall Stross (P)2012 Random House Audio
The Launch Pad clearly presents the listener with a picture of what it is like to endure the pressure of the Y-Combinator startup process. In more of the style of a newspaper article, the author logs specific events providing insight into the lives of early entrepreneurs. While the book clearly achieves its purpose, it does not provide any stunning revelations or drama. While mundane, it is a worthy read for those interested in taking on a venture in the technology sector.
I would higly recommend this book to anyone seriously interested in startups from both investor and founder point of view.
This book has tons of great examples of founder and investors at works, sleeves up, hands down with nitty-gritty details regarding daily job of running and investing in startups. Very motivational for someone looking to get a glimpse into the world of Silicon Valley.
I was particularly moved by the examples shown regarding the motivation needed to ABC: always be closing, as pictured with the example of Vidyard trying to setup a cooperation and/or a meeting with AirBNB to try to replace their existing video-hosting partner as pictured below with a fragment of the book itself:
When Michael Litt looks at Airbnb’s Web site, which makes use of videos, he sees a natural home for Vidyard’s services. Airbnb’s AirTV section has videos of the more unusual lodging listings or colorful Airbnb hosts— its nickname is “the ‘Cribs’ of Airbnb.” Vidyard’s software is not finished, but Litt goes after Airbnb, sending an e-mail to the cofounders, Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia. It is the very first week of the summer session. Always Be Closing.
The subject heading of Litt’s first e-mail message is “AirTV— Current YC company looking for some quick insight!” He opens, “Hey Guys, Sorry to bother. We’re building a platform for video serving (encoding, analytics, customization included) and would love some insight into what you guys are doing with AirTV.” He says Vidyard could add analytic reports to the videos that they are already serving or “we can serve and take the entire piece off of your shoulders.” He closes with a mention that both Vidyard and Airbnb have shared parentage. “Thanks and let me know— we’re very glad to be YC!”
His message is forwarded to Venetia Pristavec, the manager in charge of Airbnb’s videos. Airbnb presently is using the video service of Vid Network, a startup that does the video hosting and analytics that Vidyard plans to offer. But Pristavec says that Airbnb is looking for a new video provider. Unfortunately for Vidyard, Airbnb has narrowed the field of replacement candidates to a pair of big names in video hosting, Ooyala and Brightcove. Clearly, Airbnb has decided to move away from relying on a startup and instead shift to a much larger company as its video supplier.
Litt is not daunted. He asks Pristavec if she has time for a chat. “It just so happens we’re in a bid for another initiative with Ooyala and Brightcove,” he says, suggesting implicitly that Vidyard is able to hold its own while battling with the big boys. He asks Pristavec only for information, for her “perspective” on the reasons for switching from Airbnb’s current video host. “I promise I won’t try to sell to you. I’m not a salesman— we’re just looking for feedback from potential users,” he says.
Meanwhile, Paul Graham dashes off a note to Pristavec and to Airbnb’s cofounders, testifying to the Vidyard team’s work ethic and asking that they be given an opportunity to make their pitch before a final decision is reached. Litt follows with an impassioned follow-up e-mail addressed directly to Gebbia. “This is an awesome opportunity that we are willing to work our asses off for,” he writes. “It goes without saying that your brand would hold some amazing clout for us and the timing is perfect
for both parties.”
Litt dispatches more e-mails but it is all for naught. Airbnb does not budge from its original plan and Vidyard does not get the chance to make its pitch to land the contract. Litt does not pause. “Sorry to be a pain,” he writes Airbnb again, confessing that “we’re really putting on the hustle.” He proposes that Vidyard produce some videos for Airbnb. This offer will not lead to a commission either. But to Litt, there is never a definitive no, there is only to-be-continued.
Anecdotal But Motivating
I learned of a couple of start ups I hadn't heard of before that prompted me to research them further.
I listen on 1.5x speed and it was great. The narrators voice lent itself to the increased speed and I didn't get bored with the content. It moved along at a great pace for me. I would recommend this book to younger audiences - high school or college - as it will open up their thoughts to bigger things but also realize the perfect 'idea' isn't always the most important element to success. Leadership, vision and learning to pivot are common themes to the YC world.
Likely not, but I have recommended it to others.
The whole process from selection to the launch of products on demo day was incredible enjoyable to me. It was exciting to get an inside look into Y Combinator.
Over-dramatic, Pitchy, Grating
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