Dear Silicon Valley, Thank you for the hospitality. You've been great. This was really my first time here and you sure did deliver. I don't think I have ever been so astounded with a community and its people. Every single person I met (all people who never even heard of me before) extended a gracious hand to give me advice and help me as much as possible. It appeared that every body was connected and every body was friends. World - learn from this. This is a culture worth emulating. Sure, I occasionally felt the competitive nature between investors and the same between startup entrepreneurs, but alas that is the nature of business. All in all, it was a feeling of openness, friendliness, and free-lunchedness. Never heard a bad word about another person come out of another's mouth. It was all, "Oh I love him!" or "He's an awesome dude" and "What can I do to help?" This week has been surprisingly eye-opening and only made me fall more in love with the idea of living here. Honestly though, my heart was warmed to know that such a community exists in this world and that it is possible to develop a place like this., There were several people I met and talked to that really made this week worthwhile for me (skipped a few classes...) and instead of sending them all more thank you emails I will use this as my medium: PG of YC, thank you for grilling us and putting us through the most pressured interview we will ever encounter in our lives. And thank you for making us cry inside :). Now we are ready for everything, and have grown as a team. YC is ours next cycle. Jessica of YC, thank you for making us feel so comfortable as we walked into the interview, lowering our guards to the attack to come. And also thank you for making us feel so much better as we walked out :) You're the best. Harj of YC, thank you for being awesome. @YC_Y_U_NO loves you! Thanks for laughing with us during the interview, the lovely email afterwards, and just being an awesome guy. We hope to run into you and really get to meet in better circumstances. Kirsty of YC, thank you for being so kind about me forgetting to pick up our travel check :). And thanks for letting me stick around to use the Wi-fi. Ev of Mailgun, thank you for just being a great guy - helping us prep for the interview, being there for our interview, and sharing a couple awesome ideas with us. Definitely keep in touch and hope to be able to help you out as well in the future. Daniel of Accel, thanks first and foremost for introducing us to the greatest hot chocolate place in the world (I will keep the identity secret). Second, thanks for showing me around, brainstorming with me, and for some great intros! Chris of Like.fm and Matthew of Moki.tv, thanks for sharing advice with a fellow young YC hopeful. You guys did something right, and we are going to learn from it! Daniel of Twilio, thanks for showing me around the digs! The office is awesome, I can see how you fell in love with the company. Also thanks for the coffee, and sharing stories about your rise to startup greatness. Nirav and Sarah of Benchmark, thanks for sharing your wisdom to me. It really helped me figure things out a little better. And also thanks for calling Dave McClure with me :). Jack and Rob of Milo, thank you for meeting with a fellow Penn student! You guys are my inspiration and I really appreciate being able to talk to you both and learning from the best young entrepreneurs I know. Also, love the place down in San Jose but also wish it also closer to the city. Allan of YCR, thanks for the kind words and the willingness to help out as well! You're getting famous - enjoy it! Noah and Calvin of Minno, thanks for being super cool and smart guys. Congrats on YC and I know you guys are going to take it all the way. Love hanging with you both and I hope this is a start of a beautiful friendship. Gerry of Google, thanks for being so kind to a kid you met on the airplane. I really appreciate it, really :) Taylor of Mailgun, thanks for sitting with me in Mountain View to chat about ideas, markets, etc. Really helpful to be able to brainstorm with someone with that much experience. Rick of Comprehend Clinical and Michael of Carwoo, thanks for chatting with me at the Y Combinator offices. Definitely calmed my nerves. Also loved just meeting more YC guys - you are all so smart! Dave of 500 Startups, thanks for taking a call from a nobody like me and letting me drop by the office! I know we did not get too much time to talk, but it was super-cool meeting you and hope to catch up soon. Dave of TeachStreet, thanks for being the most helpful person I still have not ever met. Maybe it's a Seattle thing or maybe it's an sv thing, but you are an incredible man. Thanks for the advice and for all the referrals. I owe you one (or a million). Clint of Roblox, thanks for lunch again! And thanks for continuing to meet and mentor such a young guy. Always love chatting and hope you thought up some good stuff on that idea of ours... Adam of True Ventures, thanks for the tacos :). Thanks for introducing me to energetic founders and thanks for just being purely nice to someone that walks in to your office.. Mitch, Courtney, and Amadeus of Kiip/Eightbit, thanks for talking to me! WHAT?? Just met Kiip and Eightbit guys...so cool. I'm a very happy. Nathan of InternMatch, thanks for meeting with me at 8AM! So early! Glad you woke up to meet another Penn guy down in the valley. Also thanks for showing me around 500 startups. Christine of 500 Startups, thanks for chatting with a guy awkwardly sitting in your office and listening to our pitch :). Hopefully you liked us! Brendan of AngelList, thanks for giving us the advice on dealing with Angels and thanks for the super kind words! Very glad we got to meet. Hope to bump into you again real soon. Joshua and co of Venrock startup, thanks for meeting up with me while I'm down here and, as always, thanks for the encouraging words! Your guys' product is awesome, goodluck. Semil of Entrepreneurship..., thanks for getting coffee with me and helping me really think through our ideas. It was definitely really helpful and hope to stay in touch! Ryan of Dogpatch Labs, thanks for inviting me to the event! It was awesome getting tips on how to pitch. Also thanks for chatting with me for the few minutes you had free. Thomas of Nowmov, thanks for the cheesecake :) Mmmm. It was delicious. Thanks for also showing me around downtown and just talking startups with me. Most of all, thanks for showing me what I'm really passionate about :). Garry of Posterous, woah thanks for even looking in my general direction! Posterous, what?? You're an awesome and really chill guy so thank you for humoring me as I talked through my experience with YC and all our ideas. Hope to keep being able to bounce ideas off you and get some design tips. Joe of InboxQ, thanks for being so helpful! We only just met at Y Combinator, but you still did us a solid. We learned a lot from talking with you and will keep you updated. Jeff and Charles of SoftTech, thanks for taking a meeting with a nobody 18 year old. You guys are bosses. I really enjoyed meeting more legends of the valley and it was cool just getting your time of day. Hope to hear from you guys soon :) Ashley of SoftTech, thanks for chatting with me before the meeting! You are awesome and hope you are having a great time here in the valley. The weather definitely beats the PNW. YC_Y_U_NO, thanks buddy!!! TROLOLOL. You helped us do most of this. To all I may have missed: thank you thank you thank you for just helping me fall in love with the valley and this pro-entrepreneur community!
I just had a great conversation with Rob Eroh, VP of Product Development of Milo, over the phone tonight. He had some great insight on how Milo started, the work they put in, and the things entrepreneurs should think about when starting a consumer web start up. Along with being a great guy, Rob and I talked about the type of codebase that was behind Milo and the expertise I had. I am coding in mainly PHP (I used some Python in my VERY first project), while Milo is build mainly on Python. Rob has directed me to a Python framework called Flask, which he likes a lot. I have decided that maybe it is time for me to learn how to build both more scalable code, and code in something other than PHP. So, I have promised myself my next new project will be written in Python on top of the Flask framework. I am hoping there is not too much of a learning curve and there won't be too many (more than 3 lets say) just staying up learning it all. But, it will be a worthwhile experience that I am sure will be useful for me down the line. Also...if Rob is reading this, don't worry I did not forget to look into Hudson.
Jack Abraham, founder of Milo.com which was recently acquired by Ebay for $70M+, came to speak to my Enabling Technologies class today. He had amazing insight on what it means to be an entrepreneur and why (if you want to do it) you should do it now. Here is the PDF version of some of his most insightful answers that a friend (Steven Dong) transcribed. Jack Abraham Snippets from Lunch [PDF] Here are the key takeaways I gleaned: 1) Being successful as an entrepreneur includes luck, but it is more just working your ass off. Being "resilient" as Jack put it. Facing tough times, bad ideas, ideas that big companies take, and literally every and anything and just doing it. He told my class, "If you never give up, you have a 100% probability to be successful." His message was basically work work work work work. Don't stop. Work. 2) There is a high opportunity cost in waiting to pursue entrepreneurship. If it is right for you, do it now. Leaving school might be your best option. If you leave now and fail, you can always come back, follow a stable path and get all the resources your college has to offer in terms of career services. If you wait, you might either miss an opportunity, fail as an entrepreneur when things really matter, or (worse) get sucked into the gold handcuffs (explained in the PDF). 3) Get credibility. Sourround yourself with credible people as mentors, advisors, etc or drop out of an Ivy League school. Show VCs, angels, potential partners, that you know what it takes and you're willing to do it. I still recommended reading the transcript. I was extremely excited after hearing him speak and just want to do something big now! Full transcript (if you don't like PDF's) after the break. 1. As someone who is young, no experience, no track record, and probably no sense of how difficult everything is in front of you, how did you gain the credibility to get in bed with the big Silicon Valley investors, specifically the PayPal Mafia? As far as credibility goes, if you surround yourself with people who have credibility, you instantly gain some sort of credibility. Whether it is advisors, investors, legal, etc. Surround yourself with the people who have credibility and you'll be fine. However, if your really trying and dedicated, drop out of school. There is no greater amount of credibility a young entrepreneur can gain than someone who is dropping out of an Ivy League education in order to move to silicon valley and begin his startup. That shows anyone that he is so convinced what he has will work that he's willing to give up everything for it. 2. How did you make that decision to drop out of school? That’s a hard choice to make. The way I see it is very straightforward. Think of life as a train ride. You can hop on different trains to get through it. Since your all Wharton, let's assume that there are only two trains in life. The corporate train and the entrepreneurial train. The corporate train is a train that will be around forever and ever. This is a train that comes by regularly, once every semester in an event called OCR, and is available to you at any point in life, forever. There is always a job for a consultant, accountant, IBD, S&T, blah blah blah. You can apply at any point in time. The entrepreneurial train is rare. Extremely. Rare. It may only come by, if you’re lucky, once in a lifetime. There's only a small window of opportunity where you can hop on and you never know when you are thrown off. If you can get on this train and go for a few stops and decide that you don't like this train, you can hop off and jump back on the corporate train at any time. But the opposite doesn't apply. You can't just jump off the corporate train and then jump back on the entrepreneurial train. (He was referring to the fact that he can come back and finish his education anytime. If Milo wasn't successful, he could come back to Wharton, go through OCR, and have a better chance of landing a corporate job than anyone else who was applying. Corporate guru's look for the "go getters" of the world. People who are self motivated and self driven. A failed entrepreneur who has failed holds more experience and is more likely to get an entry level corporate job than someone whose studied hard in college and just graduating. Being an entrepreneur and failing improves his chances of getting a corporate job. . . if he ever chooses to go that route.) A lot of you have heard that it's easier to get a corporate job, get some "experience", and then go be an entrepreneur. This doesn't happen. Why? Because of the golden handcuffs. What are golden handcuffs? They are the very things that tie you to your corporate job. A) Lifestyle. Your starting salary is usually pretty decent, allowing you to live a certain lifestyle. It is very difficult for someone who is use to living a certain lifestyle to step down, bootstrap, and live the life of an entrepreneur. I'm ok with living on an air mattress and eating ramen all day. But if I had been working for GS for two years, walked around in Gucci suits all day, it would have been impossible for me to change my lifestyle down to ramen and air mattresses. This goes for most people. B) Your work load decreases and your salary increases. Every year you get paid a little more and you get a little less work. By your second year your making more money than when you first started and your doing less work. It becomes harder and harder to quit your job when your getting paid more to do less. Especially when your quitting your job for something that could potentially give you absolutely nothing. C) Corporate skills are good for the corporate world. A lot of what you do in the corporate world doesn't not directly translate into the entrepreneurial world. You don't have a billion dollar budget or a zillion people network of connections. A lot of what you learn and do at big firms just doesn't work on the small, startup level. The "experience" you gain doesn't really help at all for you to do a startup. The truth is, as you get older, the less likely you are to do a startup. As you have a spouse, or have kids, people who REALLY depend on you, you become much less likely to actually go do something as risky as a startup. At the end of the day, silicon valley investors are more likely to bet big on young entrepreneurs than older ones. Why? Because they won big with Yahoo. With Google. Zuckerberg at Facebook. Heck, even Apple. Those guys were young as hell. 3. What does it take to be an entrepreneur? Resilience. One time I was meeting with a member of the paypal mafia. It took me a rediculous amount of time to get ahold of him and get a meeting out of him. (He told us the whole story about how he followed up with this guy for weeks on end. Most of the time with no response. This was AFTER he was introduced to this guy from someone he invested in the past) Finally he replied to my emails with three words. "Wheres the deck?" I replied with "Well I just want your opinion and I'm not really looking for your investment. I'd just really like to have coffee with you. I'll be in San Fran on Saturday, when would be a good time for you?" No reply. I sent out another email on Friday. No reply. I sent out another message on Saturday. No reply. Tuesday I called up a guy who worked with this investor, chatted with him on this guys availability and whether he got my twelve billion messages or not, and he replied with. Send him the slide deck." So me and my co-founder hurried and put together this amazing slide deck, sent it to him and within 5 minutes got a reply. Two words. "Got it." A few days later I got a phone call. For the next two hours he ripped my business, me, my co-founder, my mother, my father, my life, my aunt, and everything I could ever think about .. . apart. At one point he even went to say that I would have a better chance being the quarterback of the Dallas cowboys than ever seeing this venture succeed. Throughout the entire conversation I just wanted to tell this guy, "FUCK OFF. Who do you think you are?" I kept telling myself, he's from PayPal, he must know what he's talking about, I should just hear him out. Nothing bad could come of it if I just hear him out. If I tell him what I want to tell him then I'll just be screwing myself over. So I took the abuse. I told him thank you very much for your insight and I look forward to meeting with you in person soon. He hung up, immediately, without a goodbye. Over the next few days I analyzed everything he said and did research on all of the concerns that he had. I wrote back to him. Hey. I understand your concerns and I looked into them. I prepared this agenda for our meeting and I'll be up in San Francisco this next week. I'd love to buy you a cup of coffee and chat with you some more about the issues that you pointed out in my business. He finally put me into his schedule and I got the coffee chat with him. 15 minutes into the conversation, he stopped my pitch and said. Ok. How much? I told him, I wasn't looking for an investment. I'm really just looking for your advice. He said. "No. How much?" At that point I was in. Later on I found out that he does this to all the entrepreneurs. This is the barrage of tests that he puts everyone through to weed out the weak. Not all Silicon Valley investors do this. But you can be damn sure that the better investors do. There's a saying in Silicon Valley. If you’re asking for money, you'll get advice. If you’re asking for advice, you'll get money.