MOUNTAIN VIEW, California, June 17 -- On a shady block of Pioneer Way a revolution is brewing. One hundred pre-screened applicants answered the call of a white-on-orange sigil, which has become synonymous with budding enterprise and nouveau riche social influence in Silicon Valley. The applicants traveled from as far away as Boston simply to hear Y Combinator-sponsored startups give a 90 second pitch about their wants, needs, desires, and generous meal plans.
One after another in sternly administered choreography, the startups gave brief pitches
to the attendees. Pitches consisted of projected slides, one or more of the startup founders presenting an employee-focused view of their company, and endless fidgeting with a shared lavalier. Every few pitches, a person comfortable with public speaking became slightly more engaging by including a developer-friendly joke.Notable presentations
Drew Houston of Dropbox
received a vocal "Woo!" when he introduced himself. Everybody loves The DropBox.
The pas de deux between a seemingly nervous Sam Altman talking quietly to his slides and Paul Graham in the back holding up his trademark "LOUDER!" sign entertained the crowd for a full 60 seconds. It turns out you can't see Paul Graham holding up a sign, no matter how bright his shirt, if you are looking at a wall. (Don't worry Sam, I still love you.)
The presenter for airbnb ("The Abees") was unquestionably the most direct, forceful, and well rehearsed speaker of the event. He knows what airbnb wants, how they are going to get there, how awesome they are, how much the world suffers, and why they are worth more than you can possibly imagine.Paul S
joined ex-Twitter employee Chad
to talk about notifo
(pronounced note-ee-foe, but which reminds one of Jeff's notify.io
). Paul, being with notifo for about two days, talks as if he worked on the project for months. You can't out plan, out hipster, or out self-promote Paul S.Reception
After the second "this is the last presentation" presentation, the attendees were invited out to the parking-lot-turned-pizza-buffet for a few hours of mingling, scheming, catching up, and getting to know one another. Startup founders darted through the crowd as little entrepreneurial sharks swimming through the chum of potential employees. Pairs of platonic speed dates broke off. Some pairs chatted for half an hour while others lasted barely thirty seconds. Some people greeted with a firm handshake while others only yielded a sideways glance of yes-i-see-you-but-don't-talk-to-me.
More interesting than talking with the intended audience of startup representatives was talking with fellow attendees. You can see in their eyes when they are good at what they do. You can see in their eyes when they are uncertain what tomorrow brings. You can see the crazy ones, the dreamers, and the failures. At least one attendee did not know what Y Combinator actually did. Other attendees ranged from Lockheed Martin employees, to in-between-semester undergrads, to i'm-taking-this-loop-off people taking a break from being employees, to people just scouting for a slightly more interesting life.Notable reception happenings
One person was carrying a copy of On Lisp
. I assume he obtained a useful signature.
The venerable Sam Altman, the chosen one, the golden child of Paul Graham, said he likes my HN comments. He then proceeded to tell me the story of how he almost killed someone then escaped death at the hands of mother nature. I've stories for you too, Sam. Give me a call.
[[This brings me to another point: name badges are for names. We all have multiple names. I was the only one I saw with my Human, HN
names on my badge. Come on people, use a blank canvas more creatively. We want to know you.]]
I thought Trevor said the telepresence bots would be active, but they never emerged. A row of bots
lined up obediently at the Anybots entrance waiting for their chance to be of service. Their chance never came.
Paul Graham attracted his large conversational following as usual. I didn't notice Trevor emerge outside. Kate gave me a nod but didn't want to talk. Jessica was doing what she's known for and kept everything running smoothly.
When trying to convince me of the merits of San Francisco instead of San Jose, Dan from Weebly attempted to interject a point about dating being more prolific in San Francisco. His approach was a bit off. Dan tried to ask, "Do you have a girlfriend?" To which I replied, "No, I don't have a boyfriend." One additional round got the point across: "No, a girlfriend," he clarified to himself. A final recitation of "No, I don't have a boyfriend," cleared up any confusion. If you are a good Analytics person who likes SF and wants to work at Weebly, give Dan a call. He may even be able to hook you up with a girlfriend.
I monopolized Emmett's time for probably 30 minutes while having Sam Altman, Build Enginner Dude, Weebly Dan, and one or two others try to break into the conversation. Some break-ins were more successful than others.
I missed talking to Gnip Dude. He kept vanishing.
I missed talking to Paul S. I've a bone to pick with him.
I forgot to talk to the DailyBooth guys.
I'm not interested in moving to San Francisco, which writes off probably 90% of the startups in attendance.Conclusions
Was it useful for the startups giving presentations? It's difficult to say. We'll have to wait a month or two until startups can report back how much usable talent appeared due to the event.
Was it useful for the attendees? Yes. An emphatic Yes. It's empowering to sit through stories of early-stage (and some not-so-early-stage), on-track startups. Thoughts of running a startup flow through so many of us, but not nearly enough people act on it. How about an Express-YC for more experimental ideas not needing a 30 question application?
Was it the right format? As I told someone before the event, and as Paul Graham reiterated during his opening talk: What matters are the people with whom you work. Go with amazing people and you'll be fine. A format of presenting the company's projects may be misguided. We should be looking for people to join. Have every employee in attendance speak for 30 seconds at the front of the room. Yes, some people are horrible with public speaking, but that's a data point in and of itself. Let's get the people to present themselves followed by one 20 second overview of their products.
Final conclusion? I need to get off my ass and get my own startup in gear. Time to redefine some paradigms.