Facebook Should Have Stayed in Boston, and Other Quotable Moments from Y Combinator’s Startup School

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in it to build a company for the long term. So it was interesting to see the psychology of the people who were around me, as we were going through that process. It’s not clear to me that the answer is that you should [always] turn down offers….but you should take the company in the direction you think it should go in.”

Stephen Cohen of Palantir Technologies, the Palo Alto startup that makes data analytics and visualization software for the counterterrorism community and other customers, said he knew the company was on the right track after a demo presentation in 2005 when “two quintessentially government guys in gray flannel suites turn to each other and give each other high fives. [They knew] Palantir was going to be a game changer for them. At this moment it was clear to me we were going to have a very valuable business.”  No other Silicon Valley company, Cohen argued, had ever bothered to study the information needs of government clients and apply “Silicon Valley-level software” to combating terrorism.

Max Levchin

Max Levchin said that his single warmest memory of working with co-founder Peter Thiel at PayPal was from a dark period in May 2000 when the company was about nine weeks away from running out of cash and Thiel told him not to worry about it. “The job of a great co-founder is not to commiserate,” Levchin said. “The job of a great co-founder is to say, at the moment when you’re lowest, ‘Oh, you’ll be okay.” It’s to provide that platform of support when you most need it. I didn’t know if he was right or wrong, but he gave me what I needed to stay up working for a few more nights. And he in fact went out and closed a Series A round.”

Ron Conway told the Startup School audience that the best time to get funded is never. “If you can built a company without funding, that’s the best,” said Conway, who also said that most of the “defining entrepreneurs” he’s seen share a similar set of characteristics. “Having a vision and making sure the entire team shares and knows about that vision. Being a good listener but also being strong-willed. Having a 24/7 work ethic. Overcommunicate inside and outside your company. Be relentless. Be ruthless. Be scrappy. Always keep a bootstrap mentality.”

Dropbox’s Drew Houston, echoing Goetz’s comments, finished the day by reminding the audience that “by definition, everyone starts out clueless. All of the defining companies [in technology] were started by people doing this for the first time in their 20s or early 30s. They were all completely unqualified for the positions they found themselves in. No one pops out of the womb with shiny hair and a suit. It’s important to think big, but these things start out small and your ambitions grow over time.”

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Wade Roush is the producer and host of the podcast Soonish and a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @soonishpodcast

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  • Jerry Jeff

    I keep seeing the word “adorkable”. It must have been coined to describe tech millionaires who make public presentations in tee shirts and ball caps.