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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.

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Cosmic Manifest Destiny

I read a very provocative interview of Elon Musk in Aeon Magazine in which he argues that we must put a million people on Mars if we were to ensure that humanity has a future. Whether you agree or disagree with that particular vision, it made me start to think about how powerful we are collectively when united to pursue something bigger than ourselves.

In an American context, this was most evident as a country in our period of Westward expansion and encapsulated by our sense of “manifest destiny.” This period of expansion was when the seeds of American hegemony were planted.

Most modern historians look at the US notion of manifest destiny with a very critical eye. After all, it is widely accepted that the concept is at the core of our imperialistic tendencies. It seems to justify a voracious need to expand, to dominate, to subjugate. It played a part in going to war with Mexico and it justified our treatment of the Native American population. Manifest destiny was about our right to control.

To some extent (even a large extent) they’re probably right. When applied in the context of imperialism, manifest destiny comes across as a terrible ideology. That only gets worse when notions of divine right or ideas of cultural or racial superiority are introduced to it. Manifest destiny is a dangerous tool.

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Is Privacy Dead?

Is privacy dead? Do we still maintain the desire to safeguard our habits and thoughts? Or does our recent disregard for privacy show that we have really lost this primal need?

In my opinion, our startling lack of concern for safeguarding our personal lives stems more from a lack of understanding about how much of our personal data is stored and analyzed in today’s digital world than from any fundamental disregard for our privacy.

Whatever the reason, we all seem increasingly oblivious to how much of our information we allow to be shared. If I wanted to, I could easily tell you where most of my friends are right now. With a little more effort I could put together what they’ve been up to every week for the last five years. Eating sushi at that restaurant? Traveling with HIM where!? The world probably knows it all.

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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
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Your Next Fridge will Spy on You

With the proliferation of the connected world, privacy (or the lack thereof) should be a major concern for us as citizens. But it isn’t yet. So let me paint a picture of one potential not-so-distant future involving the most mundane of household appliances—your refrigerator.