Strange Combinations

I love this honest piece by Jessica Livingston, one of the founders of YCombinator. She shares how her unusual (or atypical) background was well-suited for putting together the very first startup accelerator.

Here are her 9 takeaways:

1. There is no one mold for a successful founder.  Just because you might only see a certain type in the news, that doesn’t mean you need to turn yourself into that.

2. Do what you’re genuinely interested in and try to play to your natural strengths. A startup is so much work that you’ll give up if you’re not genuinely interested in it.

3. Don’t pay attention to the mainstream’s opinion of what you’re doing—whether it’s your skills, your idea or whatever.  Unless they’re your users, their opinion does not matter. (Pay a lot of attention to your users’ opinions though!)

4. Find a cofounder with complementary skills, but the same moral compass as you. Paul and I had the perfect combination of skills to start something like YC. We agreed on all the big questions, and we each deferred to the other’s expertise on the small ones.

5. Focus on making something people want. Everything follows from that. In 2005, people needed a way to get a small amount of funding easily.

6. Don’t let rejection distract you or hold you back. You’ll get rejected in so many different ways, but you must keep moving forward.

7. Start small so you can be nimble and open to change. We never could have pulled off moving our operations to Silicon Valley in a matter of months if we’d hired a bunch of people in Cambridge.  To this day, YC has a tradition of trying things on a small scale before expanding them.

8. It’s ok not to have gone to an elite college. I grew up thinking that that was the be-all and end-all. You’ve been trained to believe that you’ll be judged by your credentials. But in a startup it’s the users who judge you, and they care about your product, not your credentials.

9. Be intrepid. There’s room for lots of different kinds of people to be startup founders, but you do need a certain amount of boldness—to work on ideas that most people would consider stupid, and to keep going when you’re ridiculed or ignored.

I particularly like the meta idea too: Build the puzzle around you. I couldn’t put it more succinctly than that. Founders come in all shapes and sizes. This is a great thing. And, the more strange or odd or different they might be the better.

I consider myself a “strange combination” of skills, experiences, and interests. I don’t feel like I fit any “mold” and I don’t want to. I want to build the best company that I (and my cofounder) can build, without limiting ourselves to preconceptions or a more idyllic version of ourselves.

They way that we’re building a product and a company is unique to us, full stop. That’s just the way it is.