Startup School – Mark Macenka and Paul Buchheit (Part 1)

On Saturday, March 24, 20007, I had the pleasure of attending Startup School at Stanford University. Here I saw many presenters including Paul Buchheit (Creator of Gmail), Paul Graham (Founder of YCombinator), Mitch Kapor (Founder of Lotus and Co-Founder of the EFF), and many more.

It was inspiring to say the least. It opened my eyes and I saw that working for someone else is not the only route to take in life. Not only that, but but bringing your idea to life and working for yourself is closer than one might expect. I wish to share what I learned by posting my notes taken, followed by a list of themes I noticed and my own thoughts on everything. Anyways, let’s start from the beginning with notes from Mark Macenka and Paul Buchheit.

Mark Macenka

Patterns of startups

  • Understand your market and your customers.
  • Known your competition. Do not underestimate them.
  • Stay focused.
    • “Eat, sleep, fornicate with the business.”
  • Don’t pay attention to how much of the business you own; This will distract you from the business.
  • Listen to people in industry.

Capital Structure:

  • Keep it simple.
  • Choice of Entity – Corporation, partnership, etc.
    • Decide this early on.
    • Choice is tax driven.
    • Some choices make it difficult to allow people to invest in you.
    • Think of the long-term consequences when making this choice.

Intellectual Property Problem – Do past employers actually own your intellectual property?

  • Look at agreements with past employers.
  • Did you use company equipment when working on your idea?
  • Avoid Joint ownership of Intellectual Property.
  • Own your IT department. If you use consultants for some of your code, have them sign that you own the code or that you can license it.
  • Usage of open source or 3rd party code can cause licensing conflicts.
  • Protect trade secrets such as source code and algorithms.
    • Use NDAs with employees and friends.
    • Be consistent with protecting your IP.
    • If you don’t, you may lose them.

Founder Issues:

  • Who owns what? Figure this out early on and get it in writing while the company is worthless.
  • Who is on the board? Choose people who understand the business like the founder.

Paul Buchheit

Advice on advice

  • Helpful advice opens your eyes.
  • Everyone has a piece of a puzzle. Use their piece to understand the full picture.
  • Weigh the advice that people give you. Remember, Advice = Limited Life Experiences + Over-generalization.
  • Ignore the people who say something is impossible. Impossible = “According to my very limited experience and narrow understanding of reality, that’s very unlikely.”
  • No one has it all figured out.

Quit your job.

  • Especially if you’re doing a startup.
  • You can’t follow your goals working for someone else.

The secret to success is to Redefine Success

  • Remember: startups do fail.
  • Old definition of success: Making a lot of money
  • New definition of success: You learned a lot.
  • Seek out information that no one knows.
  • Invest in yourself and your future.
  • A startup is like school, but you actually learn something.

Attempt things with uncertain outcome

  • You will learn from this

Startups are a great place to learn

  • Things will happen fast.
  • You’ll do things you’re unqualified for. Paul was unqualified for writing Gmail, but he was successful anyways.

Build something different

  • When Apple released the iPod, they weren’t releasing an mp3 player. Instead they released a high capacity device that holds all of your music, fits in your pocket and syncs with your computer.

Look how people using an existing product and build upon that.

  • Add the words “that actually works.”
    • Search that actually works – Google
    • Email that actually works – Gmail

Make changes of great magnitude

  • When email providers were giving people 10-20 MB of storage, Gmail gave people 1 Gigabyte of storage.

Scaling Web Services

  • No matter how large your disk is, disk seek time remains the same.
  • There are two types of data:
    • Big – Photos, video, music. This type of data should be hosted on Amazon S3.
    • Small – Tags, text. This should be stored in DRAM.

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