Why join a Startup School?

School is boring after all.

Or is it?

Learning how to start and maintain a successful company within the boundaries of a school like system seems somewhat uncanny when you think of it.

School was not always fun.

Most of the things taught can often not be applied to the “real life”.

Sir Ken Robinson even goes so far to say that the current education culture is a “Death Valley”.

Gary Vaynerchuk even goes one step further and hold the belief that “Entrepreneurship can not be taught”.

This means attending a Startup School somehow does not feel right.

That brings up the question:

Why even consider learning about Startups in an online school like community?

Well, in my case for three reasons

  1. Finding inspiration
  2. Understanding startup business fundamentals
  3. Discovering a “new bubble” by connecting with others

I fully agree with Gary Vee that Entrepreneurship lives by actually doing something.

Not talking or theorizing about concepts or ideas.

But, when you are new to a field, it always helps to be around a group of fellow individuals.

In addition, listening to people who have had success in a particular area will most certainly motivate.

I wanted to learn what’s behind the whole “Startup” thing and by this understand how the company thinks and works that brought up some of the biggest tech companies currently online.

That brings me to the first part of this article.

What is Y Combinator?

Y Combinator is considered one of the most prestigious startup accelerators from the US.

They brought forward some of the most known tech companies such as

and many more.

Their main focus is on seed funding, meaning early stage investing in a company.

They structure their programs in batches, which they have about 2 of per year.

Besides the financial invest, they offer online support and a learning community with mentoring and advice in so-called “office hours” where founders meet in groups, or individually.

The application process and being accepted is known to be pretty hard, whereby some founders even just try to apply so that they can “tick it off their list” and tell their friends they got declined from YC.

Besides the accelerator program, YC also has a free online Startup School for anyone to join who is interested in Startups.

How does this free program look under the hood?

What YC’s Free Startup School offers and what I signed up for

I visited the YC Startup School Website a couple of times in 2020 and saw their Youtube Channel, but never registered for any program, as I thought I need a product or company.

And I had neither.

But then they started a new program called “Future Founder”

https://i.ibb.co/z43vdy2/YC-SS.png

It suited me perfect, as it was tailored towards people who want to learn about startups, start a startup, or are at least thinking about it.

I saw their launch on product hunt on a Tuesday and the first virtual meetup was already on the same evening!

https://i.ibb.co/6b8ZB7f/YC-SS-Dashboard.png

Image credit: YC at Product Hunt

I joined and was truly amazed by the energy of the people joining.

Within a couple of days, there was a huge Google Spread Sheet to find and connect with other people.

It contained 200+ people from

  • USA
  • India
  • Turkey
  • Hong Kong
  • Philippines
  • Germany
  • Lithuania
  • Thailand
  • Russia

You name it, the whole world was there!

In contrast to other online communities I’ve joined, the people here were really high energy and quick to reply and actually try and make an effort to connect on other social channels or even on WhatsApp or Slack.

I did not expect this, especially not from a free to join and participate in community.

My first 6-weeks in the program: Future Founder

The Future Founder program aimed at getting into the right mindset and understanding what it actually means to start a startup.

I must note at this point, that every startup program has their own view on what is important to a startup and YC is known to put a heavy emphasis on growth.

Weekly and monthly growth to be more specific.

To get through the Future Founder Program, you had to watch videos, some of which can be found on YouTube, to learn about topics like evaluating ideas, how to talk to users, how to plan an MVP or finding a co-founder.

In addition, you had to complete written exercises which let you reflect on questions like “Should I Start a Startup?” or “How to evaluate my ideas”.

For me, actually doing these exercises and discussing them with friends was really crucial.

These were not graded or checked, but submitted to the online platform.

From my perspective, this program is excellent for anyone thinking about ever starting a company.

But remember:

Just watching the videos will not get you anywhere.

I actually got the most out of the discussions about the exercises and then trying to apply what I learned or came up with.

You also have to be self-motivated to connect and find other founders that act as an online social group.

Via the online forum, I found other YC Future Founder people from Berlin that organized a weekly group chat.

This was really essential, as the YC weekly group calls were very full (50 - 100+ people) which did not have room for individual, detailed talks and discussions.

There were break-out rooms, which I did not attend, but I heard were also pretty “noisy”.

I must say that the weekly calls with my fellow Berliners really helped me navigate through the program.

Interestingly, we all had a different background:

Everyone had several years of professional experience in their field which was sales, development, project management and me from marketing.

This really gave nice different angles on problems or questions we had.

My main advice to anybody taking a (free) online program is:

Find at least 2-3 other people that you can connect with on a closer level, ideally via Message Services like WhatsApp/Telegram, Slack or so.

By this you get sparring partners on questions you have, and it also motivates to know there is somebody who will ask you “how did the thing go we were talking about last week?”.

My second 6 weeks in the program: Active Founder

After completing the Future Founder Program, the “Active Founder” option was opened up.

In this program you had to enter a real project, or company which you will track throughout the 6-weeks.

I chose my personal project virtualteamactivitieslist.com which I had started during the Future Founder Program.

After getting through the 6 weeks Active Founder, you will get a Startup School certification.

To get the YC Startup School Certification for your startup you have to complete 3 tasks

  • Commit 8/8 weekly updates
  • Finish 16/16 of the curriculum tasks
  • Join 2 in person video calls with other founders

As I already did most of the curriculum in the future founders program, the main part was doing the weekly updates and joining the video calls.

What I liked about the weekly update is that they not only focus on the startup, but also on the founders' mindset.

In my opinion, there is room for improvement here.

Only focussing on one personal metric as “Morale” is not enough.

A split into further metrics like “motivation”, “feeling stressed”, “social connections” meaning meet ups with other founders or mentors will push you to actually connect with other people or notice if you are heading into a burnout.

Because:

Burning out is a real problem for startup founders.

Sidenote: YC never gets tired of mentioning the importance of a Co-Founder.

This has two main reasons:

  1. Development: A ideal Co-Founder has complementary skills and will therefore boost the development and growth of your company

  2. Motivation: It is key to boost morale and have a “partner in crime” that can motivate you when things get hard

Therefore, YC is developing a Co-Founder matching platform, which was still in beta during my Active Founder Program.

I must say at the time the matching did not work very well, the contacts I got either did not fit, or did not respond back to me.

They just recently updated the Co-Founder Platform, I think it is definitely worth having a look at.

Generally speaking about Co-Founders, my impression it is best to find somebody you know in person, or that you have known for some time.

It is hard to really get to know a person on a personal level remotely, and it is really important to rely on your Co-Founder, as things get hard and messy in a startup.

What happened afterwards

Right now I am still a member of the YC Online Community and look at the Forum and general updates, although I am not actively submitting any updates at the moment.

I have “migrated” to my own accountability system (this website, notion, shared office space) which helps me connect with other founders and discuss my pain points.

In addition, I joined the Berlin Indie Hacking Community, which will hopefully soon have in person meetings again.

I really enjoyed the Online Program and can 100% recommend it to anybody thinking about learning how startups work, or who wants to start her/his own (side-)project or even company.

Concluding thoughts

Founders Accelerator Programs are a somewhat doubled edged sword.

On the one hand, you can pay a lot of money, or even have to give away equity.

There are fair priced options too, but most programs generally focus on the “classical startup route” meaning talking to VCs, pitching, PR, fast growth etc.

Obviously, you have no guarantee of success and will have to put in hard work to really get your company on the track.

On the other hand, it is really crucial to find people in real life and online that are heading towards the same direction as you.

Talking to other Founders or people interested in the startup ecosystem really motivated me and showed me that this is a field I want to stay in.

My major issue with the “classical” startup route is that the strong emphasis on ideally “hockey-stick” growth and many things besides building a product and finding customers.

Take for example Sahil Lavingia

The Founder of Gumroad.

A company that made 9,2M $ net profit in 2020.

Not bad, right?

Well, if it were for some VCs, the company would not exist today anymore.

After starting the company in 2012 Sahil “failed” to hit the VC projected numbers after 3 years.

So, he “failed” from the perspective of VCs and was supposed to shut down his company.

Besides hockey stick growth, there’s the topic of doing “shiny things”.

What I mean is doing things besides building a product like press interviews, pitch-decks, conferences etc. which are good for the ego (or maybe the investors), but can most certainly stress out founders and distract from the core business.

Adora Cheung even goes further and thinks of things like Pitch Competitions, Conferences, Winning Awards etc. as Fake Progress.

https://i.ibb.co/q0LTzKq/Jakob-Greenfeld-Humble-vs-vs-Startup.jpg

Image credit: Jakob Greenfield Startup vs. Humble Business

I feel gravitated towards running a “Humble Business” as Jakob Greenfeld puts it.

Startup ideas aim for hockey stick growth, while humble businesses focus on profit from the start and are happy with linear growth.*

In fact growth is not the primary concern.

Instead, the goal is to provide the owner with a steady, reliable, hazel free stream of income.

Jakob Greenfeld

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