Weekly Takeaways From Y Combinator’s Startup School (Summer 2019)

Week 3 (got a late start)

It’s been a little bit of a race to catch up. My co-founder (Mahmoud Hmouz) and I jumped into Y Combinator’s Startup School near the end of the 2nd week, 2 days before the deadline. Startup School is a free online course that leads you through the process of building your startup. Our startup idea came together just a few days before we signed up. Mahmoud and I met six months ago. I hired his company to help me develop and grow my business, OnDemandCTO. I’m writing this blog to help me keep up with the 10-week course (only 7 weeks left now) and to report what the experience is like.

A little background: our idea came together over a couple of casual conversations. Mahmoud had an idea along with a few tech questions that I helped him think through. We both moved on. But his idea kept simmering in the background when my mind wasn’t consumed with building my own business, OnDemandCTO. With my passion for entrepreneurship, and my observations of how the solopreneur and services marketplace was changing, I came up with a different idea/marketplace for entrepreneurs, startups and small businesses where they could sell, buy and refer high impact services.

What sets this platform apart is that it would efficiently connect businesses that were willing to niche, i.e., willing to provide highly focused services to other focused businesses. Companies willing to take the leap to niche would be rewarded with ease of meaningful connections (and sales).

After further mulling over my idea, I remembered Mahmoud’s idea, and realized we had some synergy. I gave him a call. He was fascinated, and after a few more calls and clarifications, we jumped into Startup School.

Highlights, Insights And Advantages

Startup School Gets You Focused

Sometimes there’s nothing like an accountability partner when you’re feeling late and behind. Fortunately, Startup School provides a lot of content through video which helps consolidate thoughts and helps you isolate the essential steps you need to take right now.

We quickly learned that while we had a great idea brewing, my co-founder and I weren’t exactly on the same page. Our differing perceptions were rooted in our individual professional perspectives, his in sales, and mine in acquiring clients for OnDemandCTO.

Once it became clear we weren’t actually ready to build or interview potential customers quite yet, we switched our focus to getting on the same page. Our process was to create a headline, write a brief paragraph describing what we do, define our value propositions, prepare an elevator pitch, and develop survey questions for potential customers to answer.

By hashing out these components together, we were able to unify our direction. Without Startup School pushing us to progress toward releasing the site and doing client interviews, we might have stayed out of alignment far too long.

Startup School Fills in the Blanks

I’m sure there’s a wide variety of background experience (or lack of it) among students at Startup School. Nevertheless, Startup School provides consolidated information that is highly actionable. You may find some of the material is information you already know but much of it will likely be new to you. And best of all, it’s presented as an integrated whole — a step by step guide to get you moving.

As a business owner for 15+ years (who has built, grown and sold a business) I’ve learned there are a million methods out there, but the true value is found in a coherent big picture path that ties tactics together, offering a step by step process that helps you get real results. That is what Startup School delivers.

So Far, Videos Have Covered

Week 1 / Video 1:

  • Goals
  • Stats (21,000+ Startups!)
  • Requirements To Graduate
  • Time Commitments
  • The Schedule
  • Deadlines
  • Weekly Updates
  • Group Sessions & What We Talk About
  • Lecture (20 Of ‘em!)
  • Live Meetups

Week 2 / Video 2:

  • Helping You Think And Talk About Your Idea
  • How Do You Construct A Hypothesis (Thinking Scientific Method)
  • How Do You Pitch To An Investor That You Can Grow Quickly
  • Problem / Solution And Insights
  • Behaviors, Motivation, Ability And Triggers To Change Someone’s Behavior
  • Types Of Unfair Advantages
  • Beliefs
  • Examples

Week 3 / Video 3:

  • Great Founders Maintain Direct Connections With Users
  • All Founders Need To Participate In The Process Of Talking To Users
  • You Need Two Things: Code And Talking To Users
  • The Mom Test
  • Three Things To Do During An Interview With A User
  • Five Great Questions You Can Use During Early Customer Interviews
  • Three Important Phases When Talking To Users
  • Build Prototype For Your Best Possible Customer
  • Stages Of A Prototype
  • Finding Product Market Fit

Startup School Pushes You

In our first weekly update at Startup School, we were required to describe what we accomplished the previous week and what our plans were for the next week.

When we listed our goals for launch, we were immediately told that we were planning to move too slowly. They wanted us to launch much earlier. Again, this helped us focus on what was most important and to cut the fat in order to make an earlier deadline.

After we took a few minutes to reflect, we realized we weren’t facing MORE work, just the RIGHT work. We doubled down on making sure we knew where we were headed, dropped all unnecessary tasks, and refactored our plan so we could launch in four weeks instead of eight.

Gets You Interacting With Other Startups

When you’re working on building a business, one of the worst parts is a feeling of isolation, not realizing that others elsewhere are going through the same ups and downs as you are.

One of the major advantages of Startup School is that is puts you in contact with other founders. They provide a user forum, group sessions and a weekly update call with other Startups who are going through the program. This contributes to a healthy mindset, one of the most important factors of being an entrepreneur.

They help you track your morale week to week, encouraging you to put a number to your state of mind. When you evaluate the health of your thought processes as you work, you’ll catch negative thoughts as they occur. You’ll turn them into action which gives you progress instead of worry.

So Far So Good

Loving everything so far! Thanks Y Combinator for the free Startup School. Looking forward to launch and Week 4!

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