Before the Startup – Lecture Notes 3

This is a continuation of my notes covering Sam Altman’s startup class. You can also check out the intro notes (part 1 and part 2) and lecture 2 which is about building a great team.

Lecture 3 is given by Paul Graham, one of the most experienced voices in the startup world and an eloquent writer on the topic He’s also an entertaining speaker. I recommend listening to his actual video presentation.

The core of this lecture is about all of the stuff that comes before actually starting a startup. This encompasses things like how to get or recognize a great idea as well as a litany of generally useful but often counter-intuitive bits of knowledge about startups. In fact, the entire lecture is structured around understanding that startups are often very counter-intuitive.

One caveat to Paul’s lecture is in order. It often feels that one of his main goals is to issue a stark warning about the failure rates and opportunity costs of entering the startup world for the wrong reasons. As he says, “starting a startup is really hard.”

Paul wants us all to understand that startups are risky, that they have costs, and that if you’re an awestruck student buying into the entrepreneurial lifestyle because it seems sexy don’t do it. Caution is well warranted before venturing in this space.


Building a Great Team & Executing Well – Startup Class Lecture 2 Notes

These are my notes for Lecture 2 of Sam Altman’s Startup class. The course, organized by Sam Altman, the President of YCombinator, has the express goal of teaching “everything we know about how to start a startup, for free, from some of the world experts.” You can also see my notes for the intro and Lecture 1.

OK. So whereas Lecture 1 focused on the five key attributes of a great startup and zeroed in on what makes for a good startup idea, Lecture 2 is focused on how to build a great team. The second half of the lecture then shifts away from one’s team and instead talks about your responsibilities as a Founder in terms of what you need to execute well on in order to succeed.

The team part of the lecture follows the following outline:

  1. CoFounders: Why they’re important, what to look for, and how to find them
  2. Why to NOT Hire: Burn rate, speed of execution, delicacy of the beginning
  3. Recruiting the best talent: What it takes to get the best
  4. Talent Retention: or, Don’t F*ck it Up
  5. Firing Fast:: or, Don’t let others F*ck it Up

Startup Class Lecture 1 – The Five Components of a Great Startup

This post is a continuation of Lecture 1 of YCombinator’s class at Stanford called ‘Startup Class‘ which aims to teach “everything we know about how to start a startup, for free, from some of the world experts.” Whereas my first set of notes about the class talks about cautionary note on the difficulty of starting a startup (and why I’m writing these notes at all), this part of the lecture, given by Sam Altman, really starts delving into what makes a great startup.

The Five Components of a Great Startup

  • Great Idea
  • Great Product
  • Great Team
  • Great Execution
  • Luck

Startup Class – Intro Notes on the YCombinator Class at Stanford

What is this Startup Class?

This is a phenomenal free course organized by Sam Altman, the President of YCombinator, with an express goal to teach “Everything we know about how to start a startup, for free, from some of the world experts.” The full course is well organized and broken down into guest lectures by some of the biggest entrepreneurial names in the entire business including Peter Thiel, Paul GrahamDustin Moskovitz and many more. The course videos and full annotated lectures are available here. I’ve found the classes to be of immense value. Not only are the speakers on point, but the assigned readings lead to an intricate web of articles and authors that talk about big ideas ricocheting throughout the startup world. I’ve listened to each lecture at least a few times already. It’s that good – especially the earlier lectures. Personally, I think the class is relevant for a broader audience than ‘just’ aspiring entrepreneurs. Why? Because startups have a myopic focus on creating new value in the world. That means startups can only survive and thrive over time if they solve a real problem. This makes both the outcome of startups and the process of startups pretty interesting from different perspectives, even if you’re not interested in being an entrepreneur yourself. That said, Altman caveats the entire course by saying these are principles that apply specifically to startups looking to achieve rapid growth and scale. They may not apply or work well outside of that context.


Why a Start-up Job is Just Different

 “In a startup you have lots of worries, but you don’t have that feeling that your life is flying by like you do in a big company. Plus in a startup you could make much more money.”1  -Paul Graham, Founder of Y Combinator

I am no expert,2 but there is one thing I can tell you from experience. A start-up is not like an ordinary job. Why?


  2. Then again, half the reason to join a start-up may just be to avoid the credentialism that so often curtails exceptionalism.