The Best Lectures From How to Start Up – Stanford and Y Combinator

I watched all 19 classes from Sam Altman’s Stanford and Y Combinator’s How to Startup class over the past month and recommend them fully. Sam Altman, Ycombinator’s President, took all of YC’s internal learnings from investing in 716 startups with over $30b in value created, and produced a masterclass on starting a startup.

If you’re thinking about starting a company, have already started a company or just want to see what starting a startup is really like, please watch all of the classes. I’ve been prescribing certain classes for founders we’ve funded in Magma and I’ve seen good results. If you want to save time, you can read the transcripts below each video, but I strongly suggest spending the time to watch the videos.

But if you don’t have time to watch all 15 hours and still don’t have time to read ~150 pages of text, I’m here to help. I’ve selected my favorite classes so that you can get 80% of the learning in 35% of the time. Before you get started, I reiterate, don’t get lazy. Watch or read all of them. But if you’re lazy, here’s my list.

Lecture 1: Intro: Ideas, Products, Team, Execution

Watch the first half with Sam Altman if you’re an experienced entrepreneur. If you’re just getting started or haven’t started yet, watch the entire class with Dustin Moskovitz, one of Facebook’s cofounders. Altman gives his overview of the class and his view on what’s important in a startup and Moskovitz walks you through evaluation your options when you start a startup.

Lecture 2: Ideas, Products, Team, Execution 2

Sam Altman continues talking about the four most important things in any startup. The biggest take away is that its much more important to build something that a small group loves a lot, rather than something a large group of people just simply likes. This is something I see many founders getting wrong. Watch the entire class.

Lecture 3: Before the Startup

Paul Graham, YC’s founder, gives his advice that he would give to his own kids when they are thinking about starting a startup. The most interesting point for me here that most founders get wrong is that Graham wants founders to do things that don’t scale. In my personal experience, doing things that don’t scale has been the only controlable difference between success and failure. Mandatory. Watch the entire class.

Lecture 4: Building product, Talking to Users and Growing

Adora Cheung of Homejoy, tells her story to illustrate how to build product, find users and grow. My biggest take away is the importance of going to where your users are. Most founders stay in their office too much or when they get out of the office, a la lean startup, they don’t go to where their users are. Watch the entire class.

Lecture 6: Growth

Alex Shultz, VP of Growth at Facebook, talks about growth rates, churn and how to know if your business is sustainable. I had to rewind in places and listen again, as its math centric for a humanities graduate like me. Many founders underestimate how important churn rate is and getting the user to their first magical moment as quickly as possible. Its completely worth watching the entire class.

Lecture 7: How to Build Products Users Love

Kevin Hale, the founder of Wufoo and now a partner in YC, tells his story about how he got his customers to love him. This class is probably my favorite or second favorite and is probably the most or second most important class for entrepreneurs who haven’t found product market fit yet. He also talks about bootstrapping a business to success, which is important in a VC focused course. Watch this class.

Lecture 8: Do things that don’t scale and PR

Stanley Tan from Doordash starts out talking about doing the things that don’t scale when you first start your business. Doing things that don’t scale is very intuitive to some entrepreneurs, but many get it wrong. Stanley’s story is a great example of how you can get started doing things that don’t scale are. Next, Walker Williams from Tspring gives his perspective on doing things that don’t scale and how to get users quickly. Watch these first two speakers.

Justin Kan talks about what PR is good for and what it’s not good for. Like money, PR can paper over problem areas in your business, but if you don’t fix the problem areas, you’ll have played your PR card and are still left with a startup with a bad foundation.

Watch the first two presenters and add in Justin’s if you have extra time.

Lecture 16: How to Run a User Interview

Emmet Shear, founder of Twitch, talks about how to run a user interview and then does a mock user interview after his lecture. This is the most important lecture for a first time entrepreneur or an entrepreneur who is still looking for product market fit. Watch this entire class, but if you’re pressed for time and have experience in user interviews, you can skp the mock interview at the end. But I suggest watching the entire class.

Lecture 19: Sales and Marketing

Tyler Bosmeny is the founder of Clever and he has one of the best overviews of startup sales I have seen. He talks about how to run a sales meeting, how to systematize sales calls, the percentage of time a salesperson should speak on an optimal call and many other topics. If you’ve found product market fit or are close, this is the most important class. Watch the first founder.

Bonus: Lecture 5: Competition is for Losers

Peter Thiel, founder of three billion dollar companies and prolific investor shares his view of the world. This is probably the only class where it makes sense to read the transcript or just go directly to his book Zero to One, as his presentation is choppy and can be hard to listen to. The ideas are interesting and I probably only agree with about 60% of what he says, but it’s worth reading.

If you’ve already launched your business and you can only watch two classes:

Lecture 7: How to Build Products Users Love (full class)
Lecture 16: How to Run a User Interview (first 75% of class)
Class 19: Sales and Marketing (first 25% of class)

If you’re thinking about raising money, Lecture 9 with Mark Andreessen, Ron Conway and Parker Conrad and Michael Seibel’s portion of Lecture 19 where he gives the most clear description of how you should talk to investors I’ve seen.


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