Why You Shouldn't Copy Your Tech Idols | Transcription

Transcription for the video titled "Why You Shouldn't Copy Your Tech Idols".


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Intro (00:00)

Most mere mortals out in the world need to do step one and can't skip to step two, even though step two sounds cooler. Yes. The immortals including Elon. Including literally Elon himself was a mere mortal. All right, this is Dalton plus Michael and today we're going to talk about why it's so hard to copy your heroes.

Understanding And Overcoming The Advice Paradox

Advice Paradox (00:14)

How does that for us Dalton? Yeah, there's a common dynamic that we see in our industry. Yes. Where a prominent person will give advice that sounds reasonable. You know, like they're just saying they're just giving people advice. Yep. But it is not at all what they did to become successful. It's the classic do as I say not as I do, or in this case past tense, do as I say not as I did. Yes. And it always gives us a little bit tricky for us when we witness this. Well, it's super weird because we're just getting old enough for a lot of these people we saw what they did. Yeah. We know their story. Yeah, we know their story. And so we're just like, that's weird. You didn't do that. Yeah, that wasn't at all your path. Yeah. And so you're telling everyone to do something. Yeah. That wasn't the thing you did. But what's weird is that if you're a 20 something, you don't know. You only knew them as successes. And why even go do the why that take them a face value? Yep. So what are we talking about here? Yeah, I think there's three examples that we could think of that are folks that we, some of them we know decently well.

Examples (01:28)

Yes. So Sam Altman is one, our colleague of many years. Another one is Elon Musk. Yep. I think people have heard of him. Pretty famous guy. Yes. And then of course Peter Teal. And so those are the examples that we're going to kind of talk about today. And I think that, you know, as a note here, I want to try to say that everything that they say is not true. Like they get a lot of great, really good advice. And they're also pretty damn good people to have as heroes considering what they've accomplished. But if you're actually looking for the how I get to where they got, there might be some tricks. And so I guess to start with the example that folks have been asking us about a lot is with Sam. Yes.

Sam Altman (02:09)

And so again, we, you know, for everyone's context, Sam was our colleague for like seven years. Long time. We worked with him every day. So we know, we know Sam very well. I think I first met him 15 years ago. Yeah. You were right. I met him 0.7 away. Anyway, we've known him a long time. Yes. And he recently made some comments about, hey, I don't know about some of the advice I gave when I was working at YC. Like, you know, maybe there's just a better way to do startups of like going really big and being ambitious. Yes. You know, fair enough. So a lot of folks who have a lot of money, raise a lot of money, hire a team, build a lab that takes years, you know, super cool. I think it's worked well for him. Yes. And so a lot of people are asking about us. And, you know, I think he makes fair points. But we should talk about it. The fact story is important, which we'll get to in a minute. Yes. So maybe the next one is Elon, you know, some version of, oh, which would be more exciting to work in the world of atoms or YRP.

Elon Musk (03:01)

Yeah. People aren't doing ambitious enough startups. Founders need to be fixing the world, saving the world, going to space. Which, by the way, I don't disagree with that. Yes. Cool. I would like founders to do that. But that's not, once again, that might not have been his history on the nose. And we'll go into that. And the last one, of course, his teal.

Peter Thiel (03:30)

He's given a lot of advice about a lot of things, which is great. The one that we are flagging here is the whole don't go to college, college is bullshit type of thing. Which again, all right, there's some fair points to make there. Yes. But not his path. Yes. So let's actually go through the kind of the histories here.

Sam's Success (03:47)

So, you know, if we start with Sam, Sam's first startup wasn't open to AI. It was a company named Looped. He did it when he left Stanford. Yeah, he was a college job out. He went to Stanford. And then he went to YC. And then he was able to raise money for Looped. And Looped was like a mobile social product to see where your friends were in the city, released before on the iPhone. And, you know, raised a relatively small amount of money, had a relatively small team, iterated. And honestly, like used the YC network and the network he built on top of the YC network to build a successful career. Yeah. Interesting enough, like that worked really well for him. Yeah. Hey, people don't think about Looped. We don't talk about Looped. I don't even know. Probably people seen this video, you know, Google it. This is a real thing. There's lots out there. But this was a really important part of how someone like this was created, how they got enough of a network to make change in the world. Yeah. Was doing what was a pretty garden variety path similar to your nice path and many of our colleagues path. But just doing a pretty normal startup at a pretty normal age with a pretty normal outcome, like pretty standard. Yeah. And it's weird, right? Like go to a good school. Do YC start a startup. That is what led to eventually open AI, you know? Right. And so we're just flagging this so people remember. That's what happened. Is that the beginning states before open AI was fairly standard stuff. And so if you actually wanted to emulate Sam, you would not immediately go try to start a lab and raise $100 million or whatever. Yeah. Because that's not at all what he did. And by the way, nowhere could you. I guess like a really important point for like literally 99.9999% of founders, you couldn't copy Sam's play starting at open AI. Sam couldn't copy Sam's play starting in open AI. And by the way, and I think this is an important point to make. Like I sometimes do meet people who can do things better or have inherited vanishes. And the advice I give them is very different. Yeah. And so if you can do this, maybe you can consider it. Yeah. But if you can't, why are we debating whether it's the right move or not? It just seems kind of. A lot of the people that were most influenced by his advice of like, maybe I should be raising $100 million. Are people that are not going to raise $100 million? No. So why? It's kind of like a disservice to these people. Yeah. Right. And so if you're one of the people out there that raise $100 million, it was startup because like if I can raise $100 million, it's not even better. Yeah. Like that's not real. All right.

Elon's Success (06:34)

So the next one is Elon. You're familiar with your story. Yeah. So I actually heard the story from Elon verbatim. I met him before. And so I'll tell you what he told me about his life story. And again, perhaps he is an unreliable narrator about his own life, certainly possible based on my interactions with him. But what he told me is the reason he started what was it called Zip2 and Paypal, was he wanted to make a lot of money. He said, what I wanted to do with my life is go to space. And I knew to go to space, I needed a lot of money. The actual line he told me, I swear, this is a direct quote, as he said, my plan is to die on Mars, hopefully not on impact. And I could tell he uses that line a lot. It's a laugh line. Yes. I think he said this in interviews. But that's the line he told me. Yes. And he was like, look, when I came to the US, I came to Silicon Valley, it was a dot-com boom. And I just knew I needed money. And so I just was like, how can I get money fast? Yes. Again, this is very honest the way he told us to me. And that's why he did tech startups. And all the ideas that he came up with were just about trying to build the most successful company using, I don't know, the conventional stuff. His ideas were pretty conventional. It wasn't hard tech. It wasn't deep tech. It was, it wasn't I need $100 million to start. It was, I mean, he did raise a lot of money for x.com. But basically, it was pretty standard startup stuff. And then he leveraged his success at these companies. And the network that he got, and the money that he made to start SpaceX, which is super cool way to go. And then became an investor in Tesla. And many times, if you know the history of Tesla, he had to personally dip into his own checking account and bail the company out. And if he were not an extremely wealthy person, there's no way Tesla could have existed. No. And so it's very hard for us to have this knowledge and for me to have this knowledge of talking to Elon and see people trying to emulate in-state Elon. Yeah. But they're trying to live their life as for Elon's words when it's like, "Man, Elon didn't live his life to Elon's words." But I'll say this, I think what's interesting is it's impressive to have this two-step plan and do it. Right? Like, I might even argue that what Elon did was more impressive. I agree. Right? Like, start two businesses, sell two businesses, be rich enough to start self-driving car company rocket. What are you like? Hell, if you've got the balls to do that, that's a great plan. Yeah. But again, the key thing is to realize you have to do step one. Most mere mortals out in the world need to do step one and can't skip to step two, even though step two sounds cooler. Yes. Meremurdals, including Elon. Including literally Elon himself was a mere mortal. Was a mere mortal. By this definition. So number three is pure teal.

Peter's Success (09:22)

And probably one of the things that most young people know about him the most is his critique on college and like, "Do we need to go to college?" And I think that totally fair critique, totally valid critique. Yes. But he went to college. And not only did he go to college, he went to college. He went to law school. He did undergrad. He was a law firm. And he got a law degree from Stanford. Yeah. He worked at a famous law firm and a famous bank. And like, one might argue he's basically telling you to avoid all that stuff. That stuff brought him pain. But I think one of the things I've learned in advising startups is that if you don't let the startup experience any pain, it's a lot harder for them to learn. Yeah. And like maybe experiencing that pain is what broke him into this. Yeah. And we don't have an A/B test. Again, maybe we probably hate that we're saying this. But like we had an A/B test. And he was exactly the person he was now by just omitting college completely. Then fair enough, he wins the argument. Yeah. But my sense is there was some aspect of those experiences that had a profound impact on his later success. Well, even if we separate out cycle analyzing, you should know that he didn't walk that path. That's true. And then use those facts as you will. So why? Why do people give startups advice that they didn't take? I think you should always assume positive intent in people. That's, I mean, I really try to do. And especially these three people. Yeah, these are great. They're trying to make a total of people. Yes. And so I think this is well-meaning. And I think what's going on is they're so used to their backstory, they almost become blind to it. Just like any human can become, can forget their backstory. Yes. And what they're really focusing on is what they would do now based on the information they have now. Yes. Well, I want to say that more specifically. I almost think a lot of this advice is advice that they wish they could go back in time and tell themselves. Yep. Right. Like, I think Sam is one of the best fundraisers ever. I wonder if he had tried to raise more money sooner as career to do a bigger thing if there was a moment where he could have gotten that done before OpenAI, probably. Probably, right. Yeah. Dido with the well- And so I think it's all been intense. But I think that what's tricky is that if you're not digging for the facts, you don't know what really happened. Yep. So how do we avoid this at YC?

How We Avoid This? (12:12)

Because we all do startups. Yeah. We also do startups. We have our own scars. Exactly. We are self-aware. Yeah. And we actually try. So I'm going to make a video about us, about the same topic. Yeah. Right. And so one of the things that we try to do with companies in the batch, at the beginning of the batch is we all tell our own stories about our whole backstory, what we did before we started our companies. Everything was screwed up. Everything was screwed up. I think the government had the bandic who were ruining their internet. Justin says, "I'm going to strap a camera on my head and broadcast my life on the internet." And Paul Ramsey says, "I will give you 50,000 dollars just to see the law." So we do what every citizen of us is going to do. And we email and monitor you. We're really honest. And I actually think it helps people get to know us, to contextualize us as humans. Yeah. To know our whole story. And I think it really helps a lot. To know how many mistakes you can make and still do something interesting. Yeah. And so I think it's good to actually hear before you cherry pick bits and pieces of people's advice. It's good to kind of like a fuller perspective on their whole thing. I think it's helpful. Yes. And even us. Like I think if people knew more about us that were watching these videos, it probably would add some nuance to what we say in these videos. 100%. Right. 100%. 100%. I think the second thing is, and you made this point, I think we think a lot about what would we tell people we are really close to? What would we tell our kids? What would we tell our friends' kids? Like when you can personalize it and make it real in your life, suddenly you're a little bit more maybe conservative or you're a little bit more real. Yeah. And you can be a little bit more experimental. You know? It's like, I'm thinking about telling my kids go to college. Yeah. Exactly. And like I didn't really like college. And I actually wasn't terribly impressed with my school. I went to Yale. I wasn't terribly impressed. But if you look at the facts, it's where I met my co-founders. Without them, I wouldn't be here right now. So if that's the only thing Yale did for me, it changed your life. Yeah. The only thing it did for me was changing my life. Yeah. Well, you know. What have you done for me lately though? But yeah, imagine we had an A/B test where we didn't go to college. Hey man, I don't think you'd be here. No, I would not be here. Absolutely not. Yeah. So I'm probably going to tell them to go to college. Risk it. Yeah. And again, I feel the same way. Well, I got kids too. And I actually really try to give them... I try to give founders or the people in these videos. I try to say the same stuff. I would just say to my kids. Yes. Like and not have a... Oh, let's throw in a troll opinion here, Michael. Just for the hell of it. Like... Well, it's funny because P.G always said this too, which is just like, it's just easier to tell the truth, like what you really think and to think up the like... Yeah, because you got to keep all the facts straight. Yeah, it's really hard, right? But like, good luck. If I tell this to my kids, probably it's good for you too. And I think the last one, and this is one that is maybe hard for people to understand, is that when you're watching videos or reading our content, this is... We can't personalize it for you, right?

Personalization (15:16)

Like we're making this for... Yeah, we were just talking to the void. We don't know who's actually watching this. But we do office hours with companies. Everything is personal. We read their application, we interviewed them, we accepted them to YC. Yes. And so the advice we give is super personalized. Yes. And it's often the case that we will know something about someone's background. Yes. That we can integrate into the advice that we give them. And I'll say that like more explicitly, we often contradict or... It looks like we're contradicting kind of standard YC advice, given someone's specific situation. And I'd say like on average, we're probably telling them 80% of the same stuff. And so an example, if someone was a multi-time founder, like say Sam, and someone was known to be a good investor, and we had the opinion that they were a good investor, yeah. Maybe following the playbook that he's following it open, yeah, it's exactly right. 100%. And I completely think it's smart. He should do that. Well, and let's speak. We've had those people do YC. And we've given them different advice. And we have said, "Hey, it may make sense to raise more money." And like that. And yeah, if you can put millions of your own money into your own company, boom. Totally do that. Yeah. That doesn't apply to most people. Yes. And so I think this is what's important. I think one of the ways that we try to kind of control ourselves is figure out what the personal advantages are of every founder we work with, and try to figure out how help them exploit their advantages. And I think it's really, really hard to do that in general. Yeah.


Outro (16:57)

So shout out to of course Sam and Elon and Peter. They've made a huge impact. And you know, and better fundraisers than us by a thousand. They're really good at fun. Yes. That's what I'm curious about. But if you want to be the next one of them, take some time to learn about them and their histories. And I think it'd be really helpful. All right. Grace Bunch. Thank you.

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