The streets are paved with Pyrite

March 31st, 2012 § 0

Because only fools think it is that easy to find gold.

**Disclaimer … In no way am I a miner and I do not intend my statements about mining further or digging deeper to interpret true into mining**

I am writing this blog post after some reflection and a ton of chance meetings since moving to Silicon Valley a few short months ago.

I arrived back in December.

Me though, I was different from all those other people moving here on a whim. They were chasing hopes and dreams, but me, I was surely chasing destiny.

I had been accepted as part of a team into YCombinator. And that I thought had surely made me special.

I was destined for greatness. There was no way I could fail. After all who hears the bad stories that come out of YC?

That is the attitude of someone who is destined to fail.

And what makes that so hard to say is that I now know I am talking about myself.

I did not fail in most senses. Truth is I have it better than most people my age. At 25 I have never really worked a “real” job, yet I make really good money to do what I love. I play with computers, I write software and I help people. And for some odd reason people pay me to do that. It’s honestly a pretty good feeling.

So I really only failed in the sense that I thought I was different. I thought I was immune. You see when people tell you the streets are paved with gold you really WANT to believe it.

You go to great lengths to do so. Even when deep down you know it’s not true.

The truth is the streets are paved with Pyrite. It looks like gold and if you’re willing to keep digging further below it you might actually find some. but if you’re content to stop when you hit the pyrite and pretend its gold then ultimately you’ll end up the fool.

The valley is a place full of hard knocks and crazy tales. On every corner you meet the guy who is going to be the valley’s next billionaire. I think its not out of line to say I have already met one or two of those people as part of YC last cycle. But just remember for everyone heroin tale you hear about. There are probably 10,000 who came but did not conquer.

You are not immune and you are not special.

I think it is important that you hear that, and that you listen. The only thing that will separate you from everyone else that moved here with the same dreams and goals is your work ethic. And if you aren’t ready to work for it just leave now. Save yourself the time, save yourself the heart ache. This road is not easy and its damn sure not always fun, but the end is even better than all the stories they tell if you make it there.

The truth about me is I did not have enough to lose. My Aunt probably said it best last week at dinner when I made a joke about being out of work after the recent split with my company. She just looked at me and said

“Zach, you’re the wealthiest unemployed person I know.”

Sadly, that was a point I had not yet thought of. Although she probably was not kidding. The truth is I had very little to lose in coming here.

My girlfriend came with me. She was putting much more at risk than me. She left a school and friends she knew for an unknown place and an internship with a company which at the time really only existed on paper.

I was the lucky one here. I even got a fortune cookie a few weeks before I left that said this:


Now that was only a piece of paper stuffed inside of what some would call a funny shaped sugar tart, but in my case it probably was the truth.

The reality is that I’ve worked hard and earned what I have, but most of the struggle was too long ago, I don’t remember much of the suffering I went through to get here and I thought by the time I moved to the Valley I was different, I was a “Chosen One”.

The truth is no one is “Chosen” and everyone who makes it does so not by being the best at what they do but by working their asses off.

You can get to the valley in lots of ways, whether you’re accepted into YCombinator or get in on a late night greyhound only to sleep on the streets with your macbook pro.

The one thing that matters is that you know what’s in store for you.

It’s a long hard road, but it’s a damn fun ride.

Get ready for ups and downs. Get ready for twists and turns. One day you’ll be on top of the world and the next you’ll feel like the whole world is on your shoulders.

But you’ll get so much further if you just remember this one thing.

The streets … They are paved with Pyrite. Because only fools think it is that easy to find gold.

So you want to apply to Ycombinator …

March 29th, 2012 § 0

First of all let me start this by saying I was a member of the W2012 cycle of YC … That’s right, I said “WAS”.

Through the roughly 3 and a half months I spent either knowing I was a part of or actually attending the dinners, office hours etc. at YC I can honestly say I learned. I learned a lot.

In this blog post I will give you some tips on what to do to get noticed. What to do to get accepted. and what to do to do what I could not … FINISH.

TL;DR … just don’t bother going any further, if you lack the dedication and commitment to reading a single blog post about applying to something that will literally change your life, you simply aren’t cut out to be accepted anyhow.

1. Know your Co-founders. Know them so well that their parents would be ashamed to sit through a knowledge competition about their own child against you. This is far and away the MOST important aspect of going through YC.

Going in we thought companies never had founder problems, truth is lots of companies do, in fact it would be nearly fair to say a majority of companies do. But knowing your co-founders will resolve most of this fairly quickly and rationally, of course if you’re in business you should also learn about taxes and  filing the W2 form is part of this. If you are thinking about applying with people you kind of know, or are casual acquaintances with just stop thinking about it. Would you get married to that semi-hot chick you’ve been on two dates with? Yea me neither. So why would you start a company with some person you get a good “vibe” from but have only met a few times or never really seen all facets of their personality.

Part of me truly wishes there were more obvious larger consequences for this. With sexual partners there are STD’s which sometimes cause people to think twice. I so often wish that business partnerships had the same obvious consequences.

The truth is the consequences of a bad business partnership are probably worse. They cause more stress and more hard feelings than most personal (or sexual) relationships ever would. You walk away and whether or not you “win or lose” does not really matter. You are emotionally battered and bruised. Nothin can compare to this feeling so unless you’ve been a part of a bad business relationship you probably won’t understand this. But if you have, just know you’re not alone, it hurts and it sucks, but others have been through this too.

2. Know your strengths and have clearly defined roles.

It’s great to have a killer idea that is going to make billions of dollars, but what is much more important than that is knowing the strengths of yourself and everyone else on your team. Ideas change, markets change, businesses change, but people … they rarely do.

So if you have the perfect team for that great new photo sharing app that everyone is surely to dump instagram for because your mom told you it was fantastic still take the time to figure out what everyone on your team is best at. Know that one person will negotiate, one person will represent the company to investors etc. if the others dont have the time or are not available. Know that one person will write the code and own it, even the code of the others who are contributing.

Truly knowing what everyone on your team’s strengths are is something that will be a great strength in the bad times. You will have a time when a trying situation comes up. You need to know who schmoozes best via email and can make up for that poorly worded comment one of you let slip in a meeting because you were working on a few hours sleep. Those little things are the ones that can make or break you. They can lose you a million bucks but they can make you a billion depending on how you recover.

3. Know your market and where you fit into it.

if you think you are going to unseat facebook as the biggest and best social network on the planet that is fine but you better damn well know why and how you plan on making that happen. You cannot simply just say you are better. you ACTUALLY have to BE BETTER.

If you’re going to start with some sort of viral marketing campaign that’s great, they work … but how are you going to retain those signups after they’ve gotten there. what is going to keep their attention and make them choose you.

Got all of that info for me? Great now condense it all into two sentences.

Yep that’s right. 2 sentences is about all you’re going to get to make your impression on YC. So they better be well formed, well thought out and you damn well be ready to defend anything you say within them.

4. Stand out

This seems like a simple concept but few people do it. You only have so many ways to make people remember you. Do it in a clever way and get noticed. For us, I bought clever domain names (it also helped that we had a rather stellar crew on our application) for others it was viral twitter campaigns.

For just about anyone applying I would recommend doing what we did. Reach out to YC founders you know and dont know. If you don’t know them try to get to know them. have a skype chat or buy them a beer. ask for a recommendation from them to pg or one of the other partners. Even if that rec is as simple as hey i met so and so and he seems like a smart guy with a good grasp on what it takes to run a company, you guys should bring them in for an interview.

Those recs go a long way with the partners and are a huge part of the reason we got the interview in the first place.

5. Be confident, not arrogant

One of my favorite phrases is “If you cannot dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with Bullshit.”

That however, will not work on YC partners. These are some of the smartest men and women you are likely to ever step into a room with and they don’t fall for tricks. If you’re the best at something then that is great, you’ve accomplished something and you should be proud to say it. But if you aren’t, just be forthcoming.

They expect you to have faults and will not exclude you because of those you disclose. The only flaws you will be punished for in life are the ones you try to hide. That holds true when applying to YC as well.

Arrogance can quickly be aligned with being an “asshole” and lets be honest, noone likes an asshole.

6. Be Committed. If you aren’t, its probably obvious

You’re doing yourself and lots of other applicants a disservice if you apply to YC and you aren’t committed to what you are doing. It’s a big part of the reason I am not re-applying this cycle.

Everyone should be 100% committed to their idea or at the least their partners and the idea of building a business with them. If you aren’t ready with or without YC to start building something great for yourself and by yourself. You aren’t really ready to apply and you should probably not waste your time or theirs.

Now, with all that said, if you’re still ready to apply then good luck!

shoot me your application if you want a fresh set of eyes to look over it ill be glad to help where I can.

If this post has made you think twice about your application it does not necessarily mean you don’t have what it takes to be a part of YC it probably just means you need to think about what exactly you are doing more clearly and be honest with yourself.

Maybe now is not the time to apply, perhaps next cycle would be better? Maybe you should get another year of experience at that programming job you just took before making the leap.

Maybe you just aren’t cut out to run a company (it takes a strange person to love this). Honestly no one knows except for you, but take your time and don’t waste theirs. Realize that what you are making is a decision that truly can affect the rest of your life, or at the very least the next few years of it.

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