Geoff Ralston and Adora Cheung Discuss Startup School | Transcription

Transcription for the video titled "Geoff Ralston and Adora Cheung Discuss Startup School".


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Introduction To Startup School

What is Startup School? (00:10)

So Jeff, could you break down what's happening this year with startup school? >> Sure. Well, startup school began a couple of years ago with a course Sam taught online called How to Start a Start-Up. And last year we evolved it into a course we talked with Stanford called Startup School and we're continuing that this year it's an open online course that is a way for us to reach as many companies as possible throughout the entire world to help maximize really the amount of innovation and the amount of value created by startups everywhere in the world. >> And Adora, how is the coursework differing this year from any previous version? >> Well, there are a lot of similarities. So that's a 10-week course and you can either audit the course or you can actually be part of the course. And to be part of the course you get, obviously, access to the materials and lectures. You're put into a group. You get an advisor who you will meet once a week to go over the obstacles that you're having. But more importantly to talk with other founders as well who are dealing with similar challenges. And then also you have access to a community which will be a forum in which you can talk to everybody else who is taking Startup School. So it's really great because at the end of the day what we want to do is reduce the barriers to starting a startup. And I come from the middle of nowhere personally. And so it's near and dear to me because I didn't learn about startups until very late. Like I would consider like a late bloomer compared to people who are from here. And so I think that what's important is to give people out there who are not in Silicon Valley, access to community, access to mentorship, and access to really great knowledge to build their startup. So the amazing thing about Startup School is it's not just the content. This is really unique. It is about the community and the mentorship that every single one of the founders in this advisor track where you get a signed-in advisor and you meet with them on a weekly basis. Now it's also true that the content this year is going to be different than the content last year. All of the content from the last two years is available online, will remain available online, and is relevant and useful. But it turns out also that the content relevant to starting a startup is both broad and deep. There's a ton of things to cover. So we're going to cover everything a little bit differently. We're going to go over similar areas of a startup, how to get going, what the mechanics are, how to think about product, how to think about growth, how to think about fundraising. But we'll do them all in new and different ways that I think will be valuable additions to the set of content that we've already actually made available in a public library that you can get at at - And the speakers for this year, is that less public yet?

Details About Startup School

Who are the speakers this year? (03:10)

- Well, the list is about to be public. I think simultaneously with the publication of this podcast, so we can start to talk about it. One of my favorite speakers is going to be Adora. And we're really focusing on YC partners and YC founders for this startup school. So a number of YC partners are going to be participating. I'm really excited to say that Paul Graham and Jessica Livingston will be taking part in the course and giving some of their wisdom, which is also brought in need to founders everywhere in the world, but we're also going to have other YC partners, Sam Altman, who's the president of Y Combinator, will be giving a talk, Michael Syble, the CEO of Y Combinator, will be giving a talk. So we have an amazing lineup of folks who are going to be out there talking. - Okay, cool. So we should just clarify all these questions around the tracks right now. I think that isn't necessarily clear for folks who have maybe participated before or just heard a little bit about it. So Adora, could you explain the different paths of going through startup school?

What are the different paths in Startup School? (04:30)

- Yeah, so there are two paths. One is you can audit the course, in which case you just get access to the live stream and lectures and the notes. Or you can be, if you're, especially if you're full-time founders, you can just apply and be part of startup school officially, which means, like I said before, you get access to mentors, sorry, advisors, you get access to the forum, you get exclusive deals like with Amazon, Stripe Atlas, and so forth. And you also can qualify to receive a $10,000 equity-free grant from us. If you complete the course. - And we're gonna choose a hundred companies that get that grant based on, well, how they do during the course and the information we're gonna get from the advisors and the progress that company makes. So we're gonna judge how promising that company is. Those companies are. - Yeah, and those companies, could they apply at any stage? Like who are the founders that you guys are looking for? - I think the most interesting are people who are early stage founders. So they're either they have an idea and they're ready to work on it full-time or they are currently working on an idea. And anywhere from no users to any number of users is fine. I think we can be helpful along those lines. - Yeah, I think startup school is, it's fair to say it's certainly targeted at very early stage companies. There's knowledge in the knowledge base that we built in the past and are continuing to build with this year startup school that is probably useful to companies in later stages as well. But for the most part, this is, I think Adore put it well, is about lowering the threshold for people to get started. - Okay, got it. - To really get your startup going.

Success stories from last year’s Startup School. (06:30)

- Gotcha. Do you guys recall also from last year, were there any success stories that kind of stood out to you? - Ooh, so we had 38 companies who actually got into our Core YC program after going through startup school. And so they, I think for the most part, most of them did a lot of their iteration and talking to users during startup school and they learned a lot how to do that. - Which I should pause you and say that, that's a very high percentage of the batch. Like 38 companies-- - Oh, there's 38 across-- - Across 2018. - 2018. - Yes. - But still, even across that, that's 10%. - Yep, yeah. And success stories. I mean, I'm very excited about a few of those companies. So one of them is actually, I worked very closely with, in my group, it's connection IP. They actually went through MOOC with a, something in the legal space, which they're still in, but they iterated towards their current product during startup school. So I think that's really exciting. Conmission IP is they're a tech enabled patent law firm. So if you need any patents, you should go to them. - I should just add a door through in this term MOOC, which we often use internally to talk about the course. That stands for massively open online course. And it's sort of, most people know that term, but this is how we think of startup school. It's a MOOC, it's for everyone. So open to everyone. So no matter what, if you apply to be part of the main course and get an advisor and for whatever reason, we do have a limited number of advisors. So we can't take everyone, but you can still take the course. Everyone who applies can audit the course, can go through all of the lectures and see all the content. And at the end of the course, as we said, all of the content is going to be available online. - Got you. So given the success of last year's MOOC, which Jeff, you were organizing, why did you decide to do the grants this year if it was already working? - We want to maximize the amount of innovation in the world.

Why offer $10,000 grants? (08:25)

And it's just a hard fact that starting a startup takes cash. So to be honest, it's a bit of an experiment, right? Certainly it helps to attract companies to come do startup school. We think startup school is good for them. We drive no benefit unless they apply to Y Combinator and get into Y Combinator, except that we think it makes the world a better place to have more startups. So it's good if more do startup school. And we think that the most promising startups that don't get into Y Combinator, but still have a better shot if they have some capital to work off of. So our fervent hope is that by giving $10,000 to these hundred startups, we'll have startups that might otherwise die, not die, and succeed and thrive and become viable companies. - Gotcha. Okay. And so just to clarify the deals you mentioned earlier, what are they explicitly so people know?

What deals are offered to the startups in Startup School? (09:30)

- Oh, the exclusive deals. So we have cloud credits from Amazon Web Services and DigitalOcean and maybe some others. And then every company that comes through will be able to incorporate and create a bank account with through Stripe Atlas. They're an amazing company to work with. - And Clerkey for incorporation. - Yes. And we'll have a bunch of others, but those are the highlights. - Cool. - So applications are open right now. - They've been open for a week. - They've been open for a week or more when this podcast comes out. - Two weeks, yeah. - Two weeks, yeah. - Yeah, once the podcast has it'll be two weeks. And I do wanna really encourage people to get their application in. It turns out this is a really popular thing and lots of people are applying and we're already thrilled by the response. It's great. We have thousands and thousands of companies already applying. - And when will the course begin?

When does the course start? (10:30)

- The course is going to begin the week of August 27th. It's going to actually have a live in person component in Mountain View, California at the original YC offices on Pioneer Road. A Pioneer Way, excuse me, but also obviously we can't take everyone there since there will be many thousands of people taking the MOOC. So all of the lectures and the slides will be made online, made available online shortly after each lecture. - And who can attend in person? How does that work? - We're actually working through that. We think the demand is gonna be super high and we wanna be as equitable as possible. It's, I say, really interesting, correct. The startup companies in Star School are the companies from around the world, but it's also true there's a good number who are in the Bay Area. So we don't expect or really even recommend people travel and try to come to the course because that actually will probably detract from your startup. You should be focusing on startup, the startup itself and building your company and talking to your users and building your products, not traveling out to Mountain View. - But for people who are local and who wanna come in, we'll have some mechanism for them to reserve a spot and come in and actually attend the lecture in person. - And just to clarify or to add on to that is, the live is just an option. It's not a requirement for course completion or to qualify for the $10,000. - But there are requirements.

What are the requirements to complete the course? (12:15)

We, I'm sure Door's about to say that, but we, to be eligible to take part in a presentation day at the end where you can present your company. And hopefully there'll be an audience of investors and the community to take a look at what you've done, what you've accomplished, but also to be eligible for the $10,000 grant. You need to attend nine out of 10 of the weekly group meetings with your advisor and you need to consume at least nine out of 10 of the, nine out of 10? - Yes, nine out of 20 of the lectures that occur on a weekly basis. - Okay, gotcha. - So the course, Adora mentioned this, the course runs for 10 weeks starting on the week of August 27th and it runs through the end of October. Not coincidentally, that is right in the application period going into the interview period for our winter 2019 batch. So we actually will help people apply to YC, we'll give you maybe not insider information but accurate information about how to think about creating an application and having your best shot at having your company considered for membership in that batch. - There's a lecture dedicated to that. There will actually be a lecture dedicated to helping people do that. Look, it's hard to get into our core YC program. The admission rate is somewhere between one and 2%. So we think that alone is a great reason to come through startup school. The main reason startup school will help you get into YC, however, is not because we have a lecture dedicated to that. The main reason it will help you get into YC is because we sincerely believe it'll make your startup better. - Right, and you will have the forcing function of working with a group over 10 weeks. - Well, that's part of it. It turns out that the forcing function of working as part of the group and having a community over 10 weeks makes your startup better. It makes you focus, it makes you achieve, it makes you grow. So we expect those things to really be relevant to the companies that are applying. - So in addition to this section on applying to YC, what else is in the curriculum? Like let's go from the beginning of the first course and then just go from there.

What are the topics that will be covered? (14:45)

- Yeah, this is hard 'cause we have to do it from memory and it's 10 courses, but it follows an arc that I think will be pretty familiar to folks. We're going to start off by talking about some of the really basic ideas behind starting a startup. Why you do it, how you should think about it, how you should even mechanically go about doing what you need to do. Some of these things, every part of doing a startup is hard, but sometimes just getting over those first, you know, small steps is the key thing to actually getting on the road to building your startup. Then we'll spend a fair amount of time talking about product. What is a startup without? What is any company without a product? YC's motto, it turns out is make something people want. So we'll spend a fair amount of time talking about what it really means to make something people want to find sort of the proverbial product market fit. And then we'll go on to talk about, well, so how do you think about getting users and growing once you start to have a product that's reasonable? And then we'll spend a fair amount of time on that and we'll spend a fair amount of time on things like how to think about running your company and hiring people and then we'll transition to talking about fundraising, how that works, how you think about cap tables. And then as we get towards the middle part, we'll talk about applying to YC, which is sort of right in that. A lot of people think about YC as a mechanism for fundraising, although I tend to argue it's much less about fundraising, that's a piece of it, and way more about making your startup more likely to succeed. And then we'll have some cool stuff at the end that we'll revolve around. - Thinking big. - Thinking big. - About the future. - Thinking about the key things that make startups succeed and fail. And even psychological and emotional things, because as anyone who's done a startup, a door has been through this in as intense a way as you possibly can, a startup is an emotional rollercoaster. It's really complicated and hard. And coming up the other end as good a person or better as you enter at the beginning is really a hard challenge. - What about those sessions with advisors?

What happens during office hours sessions? (17:30)

- Around what I see we talk about office hours and group office hours and advisors and all that stuff. I think it's not always clear what actually happens during those meetings. And to be clear, these are online sessions with your advisors. - Yes, online. - And so they're happening weekly, correct? What's actually happening during them? Because following the coursework is interesting, which is like the traditional model if you're working with a TA for example. But in reality, they're more talking about what product growth during the whole course. - I would say the coursework is a little bit more on the theory side and abstract in an attempt to teach everybody. So something relevant to what they're doing. And then in group office hours, it comes down to more tactical things and very specific things. And so we're going to try to group you with fellow founders who are working on similar type, similar industries and obviously, hopefully similar locations. So you don't have to get up at wacky times for this. But most importantly, I think the general structure is you come in and you describe what has happened and briefly what has happened in the past week. Have you met your goal? If not, what was the main obstacle and how can the group help you? And so the mentor actually is not there to, I would say tell you exactly what to do. They're there to facilitate a conversation because I think in most cases, a lot of the things, a lot of the problems you run into, other founders have run into in just very different forms. And so it is the other founders who will probably help you the most. And so that's what we're hoping for. - The important aspect of the hours, even though they're done in group, is that there are actually individual attention for each company. Each company gets to spend time talking about what they're working on, what progress they're making, what problems there, or barriers they're running into. And as Roer points out, it's both the advisor and the other founders within that context who can help and take part in the community of startups trying to be successful. It's actually the coolest part. I just, actually, it's worthwhile saying just a word on the advisors who I think more than anything make this work. And it's really a testimony to the power of the YC network that YC founders are so interested. And I don't know how open I should be about this, but I'll just say we don't pay these folks to do this. They volunteer their time for a free course to spend time with companies that they've never heard of before and to help them be successful. And these folks are amazing. They're in many or most cases working on their own startup at the same time, but they dedicate their time, their very valuable time to help these strangers make their startup work. And it's really more than anything else what I think makes startup school powerful. And interesting beyond any online course you can follow and any book you can read about how to start a startup. This is way more real, way more effective. And I would say way more substantive to the future success of your startup. - Yeah, well, I think it really helps you stay locked into the course 'cause that's been, churn has been a huge problem with many MOOCs. I think it's not uncommon to have less than 20% of the class. - 5% - It's a single digit percentage. - Right. - And last year, 56% finished. And our goal is hire this year. And I think Dora pointed out, you only get a chance at the $10,000 if you finish. So we expect that is one of the reasons we put this in place at the tail end of the course because we think that is going to incent people to finish because we think it's good for them to finish. - Right, right. - And your startup then has a better shot. - Right. - So before we move on, I think we should also shout out the people at YC that were working on this with you guys 'cause it's not just you two running this. So who else is working on it with you?

Startup School Organising Team

Who else is working on this course at YC? (22:00)

- Well, Stephen Pham has-- - Stephen's the main, I mean, Stephen does more than anyone. He's amazing. He worked on it with Sam last year. And I think he worked on startup school too. Or how to start a startup too as well. But he's amazing. He recruits the advisors. He puts everything together. He makes it work when it works. So he's the guy. - Yeah. - And then we have two engineers who are working with us as well, Ramon and Kyle. - On the YC software team. - Yup, 'cause there's a whole software side to this, obviously. - Yeah, we build, like for the most part, we build this ourselves. We use our own software and we manage this with our own stuff. We actually, it's actually non-trivial to put together software that makes it scalable to work with thousands and thousands of companies. Obviously we have smaller scale, but even within YC when we have hundreds of companies we're working with, we need software to help us scale. At this level, we needed all the more so. And so they've done an awesome job last year. We're improving it again this year. We get lots of feedback from the companies and from the advisors and how to make the software even better. So yeah, the Kyle and Ramon have been amazing. - Yeah, right on. So on a personal side, for you guys, when you were startup founders, which of these classes do you think would have been most valuable to you? Like what was the thing you knew least about where you could have learned the most? - Probably all of it. When starting off, oh my gosh. Like, I mean, I'm from a slightly different generation and when I wanted to start a startup, there was nothing available. - Yeah. - We've said this before, but it's worth repeating. The content's awesome. Like just if you go to that URL I mentioned for the library and you start going through there, it's incredible. There's also a lot of startup content elsewhere on the web and some of it, not all of it, but some of it's pretty good too. I happen to believe that the startup content that's been put together, both at Y. So it's a mix of startup school content and other content that's been generated and on some external content that we think is actually particularly good and we point to. But that coupled with the community and the mentorship that startup school represents, like that alone is worth the price of admission, which is free, but that alone is amazing and game changing as far as I'm concerned. - Mm-hmm, you haven't answered the question. - No, my question is, my answer is- - Your answer is having a community. - The community and the focus and having that for me, like again, the content is fantastic. But that's the ground. - But you didn't know about your future. - Yeah. - I think I answered the question. - You're right, you did answer the question. My bad, Adora, same. - Yeah, I think in general, when you think about YC, it's all about the network and it's a community of high quality entrepreneurs. And you can't get that anywhere else. And so we want to do this for startup school as well. It's like, you can live anywhere and plug into a network. You don't, you know, like this will be the highest quality place you can be at to talk with people about your startup. - All right, thanks guys, thanks for taking time. - Hey, thanks a lot, Craig, it was fun. - Yes.

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