3 Lessons from Y Combinator that Changed the Way I Run Cofactor
Sam Altman, President of Y Combinator, (the world’s most successful Startup accelerator) is presenting in St. Louis tomorrow at Washington University with Cofactor’s COO, Dave Messina.
Sam’s visit to St. Louis has sparked a reflective conversation around our office about the significant changes in the way we think about our business since going through Y Combinator six months ago.
Tomorrow is a special and rare event to have the President of Y Combinator speaking on moving from an idea to building a business. I hope you get the chance to attend and take part in the talk that is sure to be memorable. Each company (and each person in a company) that is continuously influenced by Y Combinator, has no doubt learned different things. Here are mine:
1) Time is Your Most Precious Resource
The more traction you get in your business (career, specialty, etc.) the more difficult it becomes to have the time to work on building something great. There are many things that compete for your time and focus. For me, one of the biggest challenges to my schedule is the multitude of folks reaching out to me. It is very flattering, but often proves to be a drain on my most precious resource: calendar space.
At Y Combinator, there is a large amount of emphasis put on “Focus” and aggressively defining your business’s Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s). I learned to be more protective of my calendar as a result of Y Combinator, realizing I had some hefty goals to accomplish, and I had to prioritize. I am still fighting to keep my calendar clear of things that don’t relate directly to my goals (KPI’s) for Cofactor.
2) Success in Raising Capital is not the same thing as Success in Business
Raising capital is intoxicating. You are telling your story: what you have done, the amazing team you have, and where the market is going. You may get knocked down ten times, you might face a room of blank, indifferent VC faces, you might trip over your presentation, or just not be able to connect them with your vision for the future. The ten times you get knocked down makes the one time, that one hard-earned “Yes”, an exhilarating high.
Sam taught us that while raising capital is a necessary step along the path of building a business, it does not define the success of the business itself. You should remember this in both scenarios: (1) when you are knocking it out of the park on raising capital for your venture, and (2) when you struggle to raise money for your venture. Neither is an indication on the success of the business. As I’ve said before, knowledge and confidence in your vision will get you success.
3) “Make something people want”
This is the motto on the front of all the Y Combinator shirts. It reminds me that the core of a successful business is deceptively simple. You need to have a target audience and be able to deliver something that they want. It doesn’t matter who your team is, what area of the market you are in, or how much backing you have if you can’t find a group of folks that are passionate about what you are making. I still use this motto to shape my business, as it has grown, by keeping in close contact with clients. This interaction really helps to mold what your company’s defining product is.
See you all on Thursday, February 11th,