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Weekly Review #48: Startup School, @thinker on blog startups, and content toolkits

I attended half of Y Combinator’s Startup School Silicon Valley event this week, which was an accurate portrayal of the Hacker News crowd in real life. Very few blonds, lots of Russian and Chinese last names, mediocre social skills but all working on something awesome. Here’s some talk summaries:

Danae Ringelmann, founder of Indiegogo

  • Figure out the Why behind your project, as it attracts like minded cofounders, removes your ego, gets you through the tough years, and allows you to refine you strategy (similar to Simon Sinek’s mission)
  • Use the 5 Whys exercise – ask yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing 5 times, ending on a basic belief you hold. The last answer should be “Because I believe X”
  • Diversity is super important because without it everyone thinks the same and you cannot innovate
  • To build your culture and values, ask the early employees why they work there. Their answers determine culture.

 Kevin Systrom, founder of Instagram

  • Built ‘Treelist’ Craigslist competitor at Stanford – pretty sure a college student has this startup idea every year, to connect seller students with buying students
  • Built it while studying abroad in Florence, which helped because he didn’t have to see all the bad responses in person
  • Was able to have a successful launch because of a stellar network built over years. Then he just sent Instagram to everyone he knew saying: “Hey can you use this thing and maybe tweet it if you like it”

 Reid Hoffman, founder of Linkedin

  • Game changing companies are usually funded when capital is tight, because there’s less competition
  • Raising too much money in Series A is a recipe for disaster, it makes you overconfident and feel like you have time/cash to spare when you do not. Track record for these companies is bad.
  • He asked all smart friends what they thought about his idea at first, and they said it was dumb, which is fine. You just have to know why they think it is dumb, and then address that issue. (With Linkedin was lack of initial value, without people)
  • He thinks that the fact that everyone has a phone remains underexploited
  • Key nuance of Peter Thiel’s infamous question is: against which audience?
  • Against Silicon Valley, he believes government is important, as its the platform we’re all on. We’re like fish saying that the aquarium water we’re in doesn’t matter. Somebody needs to optimize it better.
  • Entrepreneurship is facilitated by dense connections like those of Y Combinator
 I also sat down with a few smart SF denizens, namely Andrew Chen (who had enough advice to warrant a blog post) and Nick Frost, Mattermark’s BizDev guy and the founder of StartupList. He said:
  • There are 2 things to do with every startup idea- customer development, and things that don’t scale. That’s how you get to the next stage of growth.
  • He built StartupList from his tent in Afghanistan, and jumpstarted a strong network as a result, allowing him to move right into the Valley.
  • Find a niche market underserved by content and build THE platform for people to connect there. Bam, you’re an expert – now find sponsors, and you’ve got a business.
  • Many startups started like that – as blogs or newsletters
  • There are so many digests along those lines now that there could be value in cultivating a digest of digests
  • Look for ways to ‘increase your personal gravity’ – things that make others join your orbit. This is done through creating stuff that other people like – social media, business, content. Kinda like a personal brand.
  • His personal mission is to create environments for people to thrive in – what’s yours?

Nifty startups: Kitestring, which texts you to make sure you’re okay and will alert friends if you don’t respond, Downtyme, which cross-checks your friends’ schedules to find mutual free time, and Point, which lets you share specific parts of webpages super easily, and Trippy, a sort of Quora for travel questions. There’s definitely still a need for a smart personal scheduling app out there, and while the sharing space is over saturated, I’ve always wanted something that would almost automatically send the cool stuff I see to the people I know who’d like it.

Resources: SumoMe, with free traffic-growth tools that work on any website, Course Report, which helps you choose which coding bootcamp is the best fit, QuickSprout’s Content Marketer Toolkit, and the Lifehacker’s Best Of How We Work 2014. San Francisco’s Hill Mapper map is also helpful.

Blog posts: Scott Britton on getting a startup job – the best tactic is to do the job before you are hired. Serious Pony warns of the dangers of willpower depletion as a result of all these push notifications. And Psychology Today’s data on what makes marriages work remains as timeless as ever.

I find the Curators Code a novel experiment in today’s internet, where the curator matters almost as much as the creator. New symbols can’t be the right answer – surely there is a tech solution here where you can mouse over links and see where they came from?

Fun video of the week: French hobbyists races tiny drones through forests in first person view mode, which ends up looking just like the the Endor speeder chase from Star Wars.