Michael Seibel is the CEO of Y Combinator which is the world’s best startup accelerator. Since 2005, YC has helped launch over 2,000 companies such as Stripe, Airbnb, DoorDash, Twitch, and Reddit.
Michael moved to the Bay Area in 2006, and was co-founder and CEO of Justin.tv from 2007 - 2011 and the co-founder and CEO of Socialcam in 2012. Socialcam sold to Autodesk Inc. for $60m in the fall of 2012. In 2014, Justin.tv became Twitch and under the leadership of previous Eli Speaker Series Guest Emmett Shear and Kevin Lin sold to Amazon for $970m.
Before moving to the Bay Area, he spent a year as the finance director for a US Senate campaign in Maryland. In 2005, he graduated from Yale University with a bachelor's degree in Political Science.
This episode was originally a live fireside chat.
Yale Entrepreneurial Society LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/yale-entrepreneurial-society
YES Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/yale_entrepreneurs/
Donate to the Yale Entrepreneurial Society Non-Profit: https://www.yesatyale.org/donate
Chris Hladczuk's Twitter: twitter.com/chrishlad
Michael Seibel's Twitter: twitter.com/mwseibel
Welcome to the Eli speaker series. I'm your host, Chris and is the director of speakers to the El entrepreneurial side. It's my job to feed your extraordinary Yale entrepreneurs and help to share their insights.
okay. Let's get started. So, Michael, thank you so, so much for doing this really appreciate you taking the time out of your day. No problem. Happy to be here. Lots of people. I love it. It's a great crowd. Great turnout. Yeah, mostly Yale. Some students, some alumni but some people from other schools as well.
Oh, very cool. Well, if anyone's here from Harvard, I don't like you just kidding. All right. Shall we kick it off? Yeah, definitely. Okay. So for the few of you, I bet there's probably two of you in the room who don't know who Michael Seibel is. But if you don't he's the CEO of Y Combinator. Which is the world's best startup accelerator.
Since 2005, YC has helped over 2000 companies such as Stripe Airbnb door, dash Twitch and Reddit. Michael moved to the Bay area in 2006 and was co-founder and CEO of Justin TV from 2007 to 2011 and the co-founder and CEO of social cam in 2012, social cam sold to Autodesk Inc for $60 million in the fall of 2012.
In 2014, Justin TV became Twitch. And under the leadership of previous Eli speaker series, guest, Emma cheer, and Kevin Lin sold to Amazon for $970 million. Before moving to the Bay area. He spent a year as the finance director for a us Senate campaign at Maryland in 2005. He graduated from Yale university with a bachelor's degree in political science.
So Michael you've obviously had a ton of success in your career. But this did not come without any adversity specifically. You've publicly mentioned that you had some academic challenges at Yale and were forced to take a gap year. Could you talk more about that experience and what it taught you?
Yeah. So I think, I believe the marketing of Yale to my peril. I didn't realize how competitive at high school I went to. I went to this high school called East Brunswick high school, and it was, it was a public school. But it was, it was aggressively tracked. And there's a school in New Jersey and the result was that about the top 50 kids in my class were just.
Gunners. They were just smart. Honestly, they could have any, one of them could have been a Yale student and you wouldn't be able to tell the difference. In fact, they were probably smarter than the average house student. And so my expectations when going to Yale was that like the group of people I'd be around would be significantly better than the group of people I was in high school with.
And my first experience was actually pretty disappointing and. I don't think that's a statement on Yale being bad. I think it's a statement on the fact that like one, how smart can you be when you're 18? Not very smart. And two like Ivy league admissions is somewhat arbitrary and, you know, there are a lot of very talented people who, for whatever reason don't get into the best schools.
So this starts to kind of spiral, you know, it was the first time that I ever missed a class. And then I realized, Oh, wait, I don't have to go to the classes to get good grades. That seems crazy. In high school, that attendance is required. I started going to sections and no one talked and I was like, why am I sitting in a room with a bunch of people who aren't the smartest people.
I went to the high school with where nobody talks. I mean, just look at a TA for like 45 minutes. So I stopped going to them. My passion going into school was law. I was a really weird high school student. We had a a legal program, a constitutional law program in my high school called EPL. I don't know if any of you had done con law crap in high school.
It's pretty weird. And so I thought to myself, Oh, let me take some of the kind of undergrad law classes and. Once again, it was just kind of full of a bunch of people learning this stuff from the first time. And you know, there was one good one. I don't know if any of you that are take blacks in the law.
It was taught at the time by a Connecticut Supreme court justice. And it was, that was a bad-ass class. But for the most part, like it just sucked. And so very quickly I realized that yell wasn't academically exciting to me now. I think that would have been different. Had I been a STEM major? But as a poly-sci major, I mean, literally I felt sometimes like my high school knowledge was sufficient to get B pluses in classes.
And what I realized about myself during this time is that I need a gun to my head to perform. I used to be called same day Cybil in college. I need a lot of my back and my, and a gun to my head to get my, a game and yell. Isn't really set up to do either one of those things. Yeah. It's like a nice, comfortable, so country club.
So where I got more of that from was actually student groups. And so I invested much more time in student groups. I worked at a campus magazine called the new journal. I worked on this campus nonprofit volunteer service called focus on new Haven. And I worked at the the black student Alliance.
And that was kind of where I got a lot of my kind of social network, but mostly where I got my kind of passion for getting shit done. The result of that though, is that it turns out that if you don't attend classes for long enough and you don't care about academics for long enough your grades will be sufficiently bad.
They will ask you to leave. And that only happened the first semester of my senior year. So I almost made it, I almost made it. I joked with my wife. Who's also a yelly. I'm pretty convinced I did no more than 80 hours of school total at Yale. She was averaging about 30 hours a week. And so, and we got the same degree.
So and she was a history major. She wasn't STEM, right? My friends who did, you know, physics or CS, I mean, they were in a different effectively, a different university than, than what I was in. You don't drop out of Yale. I think dropping out is or get kicked out of Yale. I think that's you pay too much money and so that's, that's too bad of a term.
You get invited to leave for a year. And so I was invited to leave for a year and honestly, that's exactly what I needed as a young person. Like the ultimate. Oh, no, there is a gun to your head. Oh, you can fail this. Like you can screw this up. It is really easy, but if you work, not at all, you will fail. And I remember I went home and this was brutal.
I literally went to a Christmas party with my parents and they were getting ready to get reservations for the hotel for graduation. They were telling all their friends and literally the last possible day. I could tell them before going back to school for my second semester, I told them I was not gonna be able to go back and I had a plan.
I was like, Oh, my grandparents live in state college. My grandfather was a former professor at Penn state. I'm going to go live with them and spend this year there. And I love my mom. My mom does not suffer fools. She basically said you can go fuck yourself. Here's a hundred dollars. You got to go back to Yale and figure your shit out.
Sounds like you need to go get a job and a place to live because you're going to kick it out of the dorm. And thank God she did that because like being around all my friends who were graduating and me being the guy who like screwed up the easy thing, that was the kick in the ass I needed. I got a job.
I got an apartment. I hilariously enough. I don't know if they're in a U Penn kids here. I somehow figured out how to work. Get hired as a fellow at U Penn, where I helped TA class and work on this great constitutional law program they had so yell, drop out, but U Penn follow, I was always proud about that.
And When I came back to grade ten one, I realized, Hey, look like this might not be the bastion of all great intelligence on earth, but you got to pass. So do the work. And to, I met a guy named Justin Kahn. Now I was originally, Oh four. Justin Kahn was Oh five. I don't know if you have this at school nowadays, but like classes tend to have almost personalities.
I think sometimes the admissions department like screws up and like accepts too many of this type and then they like realize, and then they kind of. Roll it back a little so Oh four was studious and nice. Oh, five was loud and boisterous. They were just loud assholes as a class. And we always look down at them and we're kind of like, Oh yeah, this is like the loud, younger kid.
Now I'm part of that group. And Justin was like the epitome of that, like loud, boisterous, like to drink, like just, you know, some might describe him as a Dick, but we became good friends. And he was very smart guy. He was a physics major at school. And that kind of started the, a long story that ended up with, you know, Twitch selling to Amazon.
And when I think back a yell as much as I like to shit on y'all. The whole experience was worth it because of that one relationship. And I think that's what yell as kind of a baseline nails is that like, if you meet one person who can change your life at school yell did its job. And, and the onus is on you to meet that person.
So anyways, I'm a reluctant Yale fan, but I still wish all of you were a little smarter and so that I had to work harder. Anyways, I'm just pulling your leg. Well, story. I think there's so much to unpack there. I think one of my favorite parts about it was same-day Seibel with a gun against your head and all that.
I'd love to actually jumping onto that. How would that kind of apply to your, when you got into startups? I feel like in the academic realm, it might not be best to do things the day before, but definitely in startups, as you mentioned numerous times, you're back's always against the wall. Is there any . Tie in there about how that might've been helpful there.
I loved it. I loved it. I used to think that founders we're special and we're better than other people, you know, it's weird. I, I guess I make this mistake multiple times when I used to think Yalies were better. And then I used to think founders were better.
And now that I'm almost 40, I'm realizing that everyone's broken in their own ways. And I actually not describe founders is broken because. Enjoying having a gun to your head in a wall to your back. That's not healthy. I would never describe that as normal. I would say you probably are going to lead a much less stressful life if you don't enjoy that, if you do.
I mean like I probably aged 20 years in my first six of doing a startup, but if you're broken in this weird way, startups are amazing. Death is all around you. You're surrounded by death every day. And if that's what gets you motivated, then it's a perfect environment. And what's interesting is that I think a lot of people try to reduce startups down to like what's a good business.
We started an online reality TV show where Justin broadcast his life, 24 seven online. That is a bad business. That's a bad idea. And it's sold for a billion dollars. Or what became of it sold for a billion dollars. So clearly there is something a lot deeper than having some idea that someone in your life says, that's a smart idea.
Like clearly that whole that's a smart idea. You should build it. Thing is complete bullshit. Just as many startups start with clever ideas. People think you're good as start with ideas that everyone universally thinks are horrible. I actually think that there are two really important things. One is this personality hack.
Can you somehow hack your personality through your startup, such that you work harder than anyone else and harder than you've ever worked before. And then the second one is you get to choose who you work with. Right? I got to choose to work with people who I really enjoyed working with and who I just thought were fricking smart.
And you can't choose the outcome. But you can choose who you go to war with. And to me, those were the two things that allowed us to execute, allowed us to pivot, allowed us to find the right opportunity, take advantage of the right opportunity. That was the stuff. It wasn't. All of this stuff that you're taught about.
Oh, is this a good idea? What about the structural Grabba blah, what about this? What I'm like, do you have the right pitch deck? Is your Tam large enough? What is the Tam for Justin's online reality? TV show is zero. No one wanted to pay for any part of it. Like those things are important, but it's weird.
There are about 5% of the outcome. 95% of the outcome is can you hack yourself? So you'll work harder than humanly possible. And can you surround yourself with smart and capable people? That's the 95% and people don't talk about that part enough. They like to talk about kind of what we call it. YC deck Ninja thing.
Oh, slide two should be at slide five and then you'll raise money. It's like, who cares? Like you're trying to build a company that can change the world and make it a better place. The slide order eight, the most important thing to be optimizing for.
Well, yeah, that's really amazing advice and it's definitely fresh and interesting when. A lot of it, there's a lot of noise out there when it comes to startup advice. Kind of jumping off that, how do you hack yourself personally that you were able to work that hard? What was kind of your internal, I guess, motivation or what was kind of the, the self-talk there?
It was extremely unhealthy. This startup was the only thing that I'd ever done after school. So I told myself this is your life grade. Do you want to fail? Or do you refuse to fail? And that was it. And let's be clear. That was unhealthy. Right? I actually think this whole endeavor is pretty fricking unhealthy, but that was definitely unhealthy.
And there were all kinds of negative effects of that. Like I lost a lot of college friends cause I stopped hanging out with them. I didn't want to hang out with people who weren't living, this kind of do or die lifestyle. I didn't have anything to talk to them about. I, I gained weight. I got unhealthy.
I, I made a an amazing move to go on two dates and I ended up meeting my future wife. So that was like the one healthy thing I did during that period of time. But otherwise I, yeah, it was just, you cannot lose period. And there were dark times. I mean, there were so many dark times. There were times when we had two months of money left, they were times, and co-founders wanted to leave.
There were times and co-founders got into horrible fights. There were times when we'd pitched, you know, 40 investors in all 40 said no, but like when it was reduced down to like, am I going to allow myself to get an F on life when the answer was always no. And so then that was the starting point for, okay, well, how are we going to fix it?
You know, during the time at Justin TV, we got sued by the largest media company in Italy that was owned by the prime minister of Italy. Emmett was named in the lawsuit for two years. He could not go to Italy because he might be arrested. That was a rather tame. Thing that happened. Just stuff like that was happening all around.
I had to go in front of Congress and testify about how our product was being used. There was just so much crap that happened. But once again, every time it came back down to like, am I going to fail? No. All right. What's the plan. And yeah. Weirdly for people who are broken like this the bad times are the fun times.
The bad times are the ones that you remember. They're the times you tell the stories about those, because those are the times where the startup to manage your best. I barely remember the day that Twitch sold. Barely remember it. I mean, I know where I was in the world. But I barely remembered that. What happened that day?
You want to ask me what happened the day that our video system was down for three hours and Kyle, the head of video was unreachable by cell phone. I can give you a minute by minute. That was a crazy day. That's what this game's about. And I'll say the last thing. It's not for everyone. In fact, it's for almost no one.
These things are like, once again, this isn't healthy, this isn't normal. Like everyone should not aspire to do this. It's kind of like aspiring to be a basketball player or a rapper. Like it's not logical to aspire to do that. It's not logical to dedicate 20 years of your life to getting around ball threw around hoop.
That's not logical, but if you're broken, this might be a place you can kind of get some extra. How do I phrase this? This might be a way that you can take your brokenness and do some good in the world with it. And so something to keep in mind, that's definitely a powerful story. And I think it's especially, I'm a student, I'm a senior here at Yale, and I think a lot of people on this call will be thinking, wow, I want to start a startup.
Look how amazing it is. Look at these amazing exits. This is incredible lifestyle. But I think it's important for people like you peel back the curtain and like the day-to-day struggle, a gun to your head. And that kind of mentality I think is also equally, if not more important before you try to go down that path.
So switching gears a little bit, so obviously you've given ton of advice, but there's a lot of bad advice out there when people try to talk about startups, any popular entrepreneurial advice that you disagree with .
The list is too long. I like it. Huh? I don't even know I, this is what I'll tell you. I want to just create categories of people. You should never talk to your friends. Never talk to them about startup advice. Ever. Your friends are idiots. If your friends know less than you do, and you don't know anything, why would you talk to them? And this is kind of a talk that we have at YC, right?
Like. There's a weird success pattern. That's kind of worked for most of you up to this point. It is put yourself in the group of smart people and do what they do. That's how you got tracked in middle school. That's how you got into the AP classes in high school. That's how you got into Yale. That's how you got the Facebook internship that every motherfucker wants, that doesn't work in startups.
The average startup fails. Why C has a under 2% acceptance rate, the average YC startup fails. So even extraordinary founders fail. You have to be extraordinary, extraordinary. And by definition, that's not average. Most likely the friend you're talking to is average, or maybe even above average, are they extraordinary?
Extraordinary, if not, why the fuck are you listening to them? So that's number one, number two. Getting product advice from people who are not your customer. It's crazy. I get emails everyday from founders, I'm building a dev tool. What do you think about it? Would you like to use it? I don't write code. Why do you care?
What I think about it? If you want to ask me for money, just ask. This whole bullshit about ask for advice. If you want money, that's crap, all that things, all that shit. Crap. Like just ask for what you want. I get too many emails, important. People get too many emails to deal with this bullshit of you like spending three paragraphs asking.
Can I ask you a question? Crap. Three people who haven't done startups. There are so many people who've done startups, getting advice from people who haven't. Y, maybe there'll be right. Maybe they're wrong. Why risk it? So if you just avoid those three groups, you're doing great. Yeah. In fact, I bet for most of you, those are like the three, most often groups of people you go get advice from.
So if you just avoid the people you normally get advice from, Oh, your parents, number four. Definitely not. Yeah. If you avoid all four of those groups and then you start asking yourself, well, who should I get advice from? You'll be in a much better state. You'll be in a much better state. And then the last thing I'll say is that like, this is actually a global problem.
And unfortunately humans don't scale. So we made a library that collects all the smart shit that we've ever written and all the smart shit that everyone ever respected, ever written. And we put it in one place. I just put the link in the chat. Why calmer.com/library, the most complicated URL ever. Here's the problem.
You all won't use it because you think that there's some Oracle who, if you get on the phone, they're going to whisper to your ear, how to build a billion dollar. Okay. So all of the best advice is on this website and you won't use it. That's okay. Because there are a couple of extraordinary people in the call.
They will use it and they will beat all the rest of you. And that's okay. Cause that's the startup game. So there you go. Let's see. Well, and I think it's a good reminder of kind of like who you should be listening to, et cetera, when you're, when you're trying to ask for advice or, and if you have a library, like why common air go to the library?
Kind of along that similar vein, obviously getting into YC, you said 2% acceptance rate. But you've mentioned previously that like to become part of this group, you have to set goals that are quote several sigmas away from the already outstanding average that's there. What advice do you give to companies when it's, when it comes to setting goals to avoid conforming to that average?
Obviously, if you're there, if you're the average, you're not, you're going to fail. So how do you set goals in a way that helps you not be average? You know, what's really funny. Step one is to set goals. The average startup doesn't set goals. You know why? Because they don't want to be disappointed when they don't achieve them.
People have been talking about goals for like your whole life, but like, you kind of recognize that most people around you are not serious about goals, right? They don't have to be serious about goals. Well, if you're a sort of founder, you better be serious about goals, like you're in a fight for your life.
So the best advice I've seen about this has been what the Airbnb founders did. Airbnb did YC in the well, we call it winter 2009, which is confusing. Cause it's January through March, 2009. This is right after the Oh eight recession. How old were all of you? You all were like elementary school. Is that right?
Yeah, 10 years old, maybe. Well needless to say it was a big fucking deal and everyone thought America was basically going to go in the shitter. And so the first day of YC Paul Graham, the founder of YC told the entire batch. We don't know if anyone will come to demo day. We don't know if any of you will raise a dollar.
If you want to defer this batch and do another batch in the future, we'll let you, because we can't guarantee you anything. Can you imagine that now that seems like almost unimaginable today. That YC batch that, you know, typically raises 300 to $500 million on demo day, there was a risk of it raising $0.
There BNB founders heard this and they said to themselves, okay, that means we have to be profitable. They called this ramen profitability, the amount of money that we have to make so that we can pay our bills and eat ramen. And they determined they needed to be making $4,000 a month to be ramen profitable.
And when they got into YC, they were making $800 a month. So all I did was something very simple. The day of demo day, they put it on their calendar. They said we have to making 4k a month. By that day, they drew a graph back to the current week and said, this is how much our revenue has to be every week to hit that goal.
They printed that graph out and put it on every surface of their apartment. Inside of there frigerator on the mirror of their medicine cabinet in the bathroom. And every week they updated it with where they actually were. And lo and behold, about two months into the batch, they hit ramen profitable. So they got to the point where they could say to investors, you can go fuck yourself.
We don't need money. Counter-intuitively when you tell the investor, we don't need your money. You know what they want to do. Give you their money. And so they ended up raising from Sequoia at a $3 million valuation at a $3 million valuation. The typical evaluation for YC company today is somewhere between eight and 25 million.
And they're still doing very, very well. So that was the best kind of advice I heard about goals and what we tell all founders. The Airbnb founders now kick off every YC batch. And actually, if you get the double today was the first day of this YC batch and the Airbnb founders actually spoke this morning and told this exact story.
So that's why I was top of mind what an incredible story. It's, that's pretty amazing. I love it. Ramen profitable. And continuing down the kind of the vein of goals. Do you personally set any like personal or professional goals and, and how have kind of those changed over time? You know, once again, I think productivity is like a mental hack.
It's how you can convince yourself to do more work in less time. And so everyone has to develop. Their own systems for doing that? I think three things have been really helpful for me. First is the power of new year's resolutions. Those two dates that I went on the second one with my future wife, I made a new year's resolution to go on three dates.
I don't think I'd been on a date for two years before that resolution. And I was just kind of like, come on Michael. Like you can go on. Three dates, Jesus Christ. Right? And then the second one was my wife. Right. So that worked out great. And I think ever every time ever since that happened, I kind of have a special place in my mind for new year's resolutions.
Last year, my news resolution part of it was to lose weight. Been at an unhealthy weight for more years than I can count. Over the last year I've lost 60 pounds and I finally kind of actually committed to doing it and it's working. So my first hack is news resolutions. My second hack is this thing called Oh God, I always forget what it's called.
One second. I'm going to share a link though. This is why I love zoom. I can actually give you information that you can then use. My second hack is this thing called atomic habits. I'm putting the link into chat. There's a book. The book is a blog post that was turned into a book in which all of the information was kind of diluted.
Massively, read the book for fun. This is a blog post about the book that actually condenses it down to its actual essential components. The person I have to think for giving me this is Justin, Justin had a great conversation with me about a year ago. He said, Michael, I am the kind of catalyst for a lot of new habits, traditions, things that our friend group does.
And I am afraid that I introduce bad habits and bad practices to our friend group. And I thought to myself, I'm remembering some times I've hung out with Justin and I can see where he's coming from there. And so he said, I want to actually start spreading good habits to our friend group. I want to, I know I have this power to be influential and I want to use it for good.
And he said, one of the, have one of the things that I've adopted has been this atomic habits guide. And if I were to explain the topic habits in a very simple way, I would say that. A lot of people believe that there exists people who are successful because they find hard things easy to do. Yeah. I told my staff this I told a story to myself about this, about weight.
Like, Oh, there are people out there who are just genetically thin and they could do anything. And they're thin maybe there are a couple, but most people aren't that way. And. What this book says is that the people who are more successful than you have trained themselves to be better at doing hard things, it's not that those things are easy to them.
It's that they've trained themselves to be better at doing hard things that you are. That concept was important for me, because I thought to myself, okay, well, I can't change my genes, but I can train myself. And if they did it, and what it breaks down is this idea that. If you can set up habits that both make the things you don't want to do harder to do, and the things that you want to do easier to do.
And if you can make those habits so small, that it is painless to do them, you can start programming your life. You can start changing your life. And here's the weird thing. I think one of the crazy things about school is you're never taught how to change anything in your life. You never taught it. Are you ever taught?
Oh, I want to be better at basketball. Here's how I train myself to get better at basketball. No, I want to get better at coding. Here's how I train myself to get better. Okay. No, you are never taught how to actually develop your own talent. You're taught a lot of facts. Don't get me wrong. Give me a lot of exercises, but you're never taught how to kind of program your own life and this book.
Taught it to me. And then I got to apply it to all these different areas. So to me that was the second one. And then the third one there was this moment at YC, probably about, so I started running the accelerator in 2016 and I think there was a moment while running, sorry to pretty early on realized that why C is going to outlive almost every single company that we fund.
I realized the parallels of why CDL. I never appreciated what it meant to be a 300 year old institution. But when I started seeing all these companies dying around me left and right, I started realizing it's pretty special to be able to survive in any form for 300 years. It's it's, it's crazy. It's extremely rare.
And I started realizing that Y C had that quality and that was really inspirational to me because then I started realizing this is bigger than me. I just want to be one of the many people that help YC achieve its hundredth birthday and then 300 birthday. And I don't even really care about the credit because if you can build something, that's an institution that outlives you, you've done something more impressive than most of the billionaires.
Then most of the most successful people in society, it turns out money as a scorecard is a really bad scorecard, but institution building a scorecard, I think is a great scorecard. It's very hard to build a long lasting institution that hurts people. It's very easy to make money hurting people. So That kind of being in a, in an organization like that was the last thing that unlocked my productivity.
Suddenly I started thinking, what am I going to do over the next 10 years? So the person I hand this to 10 years from now, we'll be happy, will feel like they got a great foundation. And I think that founders who adopt that kind of long-term view of what they're doing. Have a massive advantage. Most of the young founders surrounding you want success today, the longest they've ever had to wait for something is like four years.
Airbnb was what? 12 years? IPO, no longer shit. It was 13 years to IPO. If you can make it that long, everyone around you is going to drop off. We call these people who drop off scenesters. They want to be part of the startup scene, but they don't want to do the hard work to actually be successful and to build great products.
Scenesters always die. They always drop off. And the real folks are the ones who were left. So those are the three things. Amazing advice. And I think I definitely resonated with, so I read atomic habits back in March 20, 20 day after I said it was the most powerful book I've ever read and I've done like a daily reading habit started one minute, went to three minutes, went to five minutes.
Now I've been reading 20 minutes a day or so for the past nine or 10 months. But definitely for everyone, everyone here, it's one of the most powerful things that I've done in my life. And I obviously, Michael got some more benefits. So it was incredible. I think another thing kind of changing gears a little bit personally, I'm not, I'm not a coder, I'm not a hacker.
And I'm also a political science major. So I'd love to hear your viewpoint on how do you make yourself valuable in a startup as a non-technical founder? So like w what do you do there? Okay. That's a great question. Start with the premise that you're useless and you're starting at the right position.
Start with the premise that useless, because the, the. Common mistake is starting with the premise that you're the most viable person. The most common mistake is the, what I call. I just see the world in black and white business guys, tech guys, if you're a designer, we're going to lump you on the tech side.
Business guys, tech sides, business people, tech people, really simple. People are like, Oh, but I'm expert in customer service business. Oh, but I'm an expert in marketing business. Oh. But I'm expecting expert. I'm a backend coder tech. Like it's very simple, right? Because in a startup, the idea that you just do, the thing that you're particularly expert in is bullshit.
You do everything that needs to be done. And the real question is like, who's the most competent person to do it. And if you're a end person, but you need a website. Well, the business person, ain't the most competent person to build the website. So probably you're now a front end person. Welcome to the show.
So we're just going to call you tech the most common failure mode IC is business person with genius idea. There's this person got out graphing calculator or Excel spreadsheet, did some math and determined about a business that they don't know anything about. An industry usually don't know anything about.
They have a genius idea because everyone else is an idiot. And then all they need is a couple of coders. With no brains, but really fast typing skills to build it and then.dot, dot victory. I hate that if that was my mentality, we wouldn't have one. My mentality was very different. I equate tech skills as more valuable, especially in the early stage of a company.
And so I thought to myself, if I can't write code. How do I make sure I'm surrounded by the best software engineers that I can have in relationship with? And I don't define best by, Oh, this person's a CTO who managed 500 people. CTO is don't write code CTO, spend too much time managing 500 people. Right.
And so I wanted to know who could ship product. Around me and Justin is really interesting because Justin's not a great coder. He's a self-taught coder. He didn't learn CS at school at all, but you know what Justin does. He ships product, Emmett ships, product Kyle ships product. So that was my first thought I'm shit.
My second thought, is that the way I'm going to learn how software works? Is embedding myself in the software conversations. I, we all lived in the same apartment, the software, we all worked in the same apartment. The software conversations were happening in front of me. And I listened. It took two years for me to start understanding what makes a feature easy or hard to build.
Two years of just being in these conversations and listening. But after two years I started getting it. After two years, I started getting something simple. Like it turns out changing the text on a webpage is a lot easier than adding a button. That sounds dumb, simple, but for business guys, they need to be told shit like that.
They need to learn shit like that. So they might think, Hey, instead of asking for a new button, why don't I just change the text on this button? And then your technical founders, like, Oh, sure. That's easy as opposed to, Oh, go fuck yourself. I don't want to build that. Right. That takes time. It's okay. That, that takes time.
And then I think the last thing that was really important for me was that. I don't have to be, I don't have to have the problem. The startup doesn't have to solve my problem. You know, I was a CEO of Justin TV, but the startup was solving Justin's problems, not mine. Like that's okay. As long as I really liked people I'm working with and I'm motivated.
That's okay. If the problem isn't solving my problem, it stops not solving my problem. So I think those are the big things that were, that were really helpful to me. You know, nowadays I just see business people who want to cheat, Oh, we're not building a tech startup. It's tech enabled. So I'm going to outsource the engineering to blink.
And I, when I read that and YC application, you know what I think. I'll tell you exactly what I think so I can make you feel bad. That's a good idea. I'm going to go fund a tech team. That's building it. They're going to destroy you in every way and I'm going to help them. That's what I think every good tech investor thinks that way, because pound for pound, if it's you with no tech and a team of tech, the tech, team's going to be shoe.
If it's you, who's paying consultants and Upwork workers versus a team of software engineers who have equity, who actually get money. If the company works. This team too is going to win. And so that's what I think about it. So if you start from the perspective that you're not shit, that's, you're, you're moving in the right direction, then like, okay, I'm not shit.
So how do I get great people around me? That's the mentality that you should have. And what's funny is that once again, up until now, this isn't the sorting, this isn't the ordering. This is not the who the cool kids are. You know, the cool kids are the ones who can talk and answer questions in class.
The cool kids are the athletes. Well, bam in my world, the cool kids are Kyle Vogt. You know, the Twitch video system that streams to like a giant to people every day, he built it alone. At 21, he was not a professional software developer. Then he bought the second version. Then this guy who went to a small school in upstate New York and was homeschooled, then almond is now the CEO of Triplebyte.
He built version two and three first job out of college. Most of the stuff you use today were built by very small groups of people. Usually one person who just sat down and got a lot of shit done. And that engineer is usually 10 times more valuable than the business person on their team. Okay, that's amazing.
And I think this all comes back to humility. Like you don't, you're not shit. You need to be humble. And, and especially as a business person, instead of a tech person, you have to just come from a place of humility and that helps everything overall. So we have time for one more quick question, and then we're going to go to an audience Q and a so blow up the chat and we'll, and we'll go to that.
So our last question is. Obviously our group, the entrepreneurial side, we're trying to do anything we can to promote entrepreneurship at Yale. We've been doing speaker series with people like yourself and Emmett shear and others. We have mentorship programs. We have an internship program, which is brand new this year with 75 startups and a hundred undergrads taking part in getting internship experience.
I'd love to hear your thoughts on, so two things, one, how do you, how would you think like organizations like us can help foster entrepreneurship and innovation and then two. What are the best ways to do promote diversity and support diversity at Yale's campus? And beyond, well, the first one Hmm, this is, this is tough.
It's tough. Right? I think one of the hardest things for college students, especially during this COVID time, one of the hardest things is for them to meet each other and form relationships with each other. And I think that. When I talked to college, cause I've talked to like, I think like I've talked to about 3000 college kids in the last nine months or so zoom has made it ridiculous, easy to college kids.
And I just see this very like horrible thing going on where it's like too many people are into startups. That's first. Too many people are scenesters they say they're working in a startup during college. Like if you're not working full time, you're not working on a startup. Come on. They're obsessed about any new technology, like the number of like GP T3, like, Oh God, we have to do machine learning because that's what all the cool people are doing is just crap.
They have what we call pivot itis. The second, it looks like something's not working. Oh God, we got to pivot. Oh, things are supposed to work instantly. And it's just depressing and horrible. And unfortunately, when you gather a group of people like that together, I actually think it brings down all the people.
So I think my first and best piece of advice is like, maybe don't worry about doing your startup at all in college. Like maybe the most important and viable thing this group can do is get smart people to become friends with each other smart people who are generally interested in starting tech startups to become friends with each other.
And like, that's all I needed. Right. I just need to make a friend I didn't need DEC training and bubble, blah. Right? All the information's online. You're not going to teach things better than we do. So why try? The one thing that you can do is, is get people to really connect with each other because the reason why.
One of the important reasons why Justin TV didn't die was because Justin and I were so close, Justin and Emma were so close, we would never say the thing that would break the relationship. So no matter how stressful things got, we never broke the relationship. And so we survived. So I think that's probably where I would focus my effort and I probably would focus my effort away from ever saying that idea's bad.
I would have like a, a theme, a like a motto or whatever, the fact that say, like, there are no bad ideas because I don't know if there's anyone on this call. That's more qualified to say whether idea is good or bad or not than me, but probably not. And I have to read hundreds of YC applications every single six months, every admission cycle.
And I have to tell myself every time there are no bad ideas. Every time I have to that part of my brain, I have to turn off. Oh, I can't see how this works. And you know, I have this convenient reason to right. It's like, Oh, well your reality TV thing worked. So any idea that you read, give it a little play.
You got to give it some rope. Cause like, Hey, your thing was horrible. And it worked. So like don't use that part of your brain on the question of diversity This is a really tricky question. And the more that I've dug into this question, and the more that I feel like the right topics aren't even being discussed, I think the popular culture topic is that the venture industry is biased against founders.
If you're an underrepresented founder and you go out and raise money, will you have some shitty experiences? Yes. If you're a white male founder and you go out and raise money, expect some shitty experiences too. Will you get more for represented? Sure. Maybe, but to me, that's not like if you're underrepresented, you have shitty experiences all the time.
Like, like that, like you're, you're not successful because you can't handle shitty experiences. I think that there's a bigger and more pernicious problem. That's much harder to solve for which is that Opportunity isn't evenly distributed. When I ask the black founders, who've done YC, why their smartest friends don't do startups.
The answer is not because they pitched and they couldn't get money. The answer is that usually by the age of 25, they've become one of the most significant breadwinners in their immediate family and sometimes extended family. The thing about that. How many of you would be in that position? How many of you who, if you get that job at Facebook at 22, will you be the number one breadwinner in your family?
All of the math on whether to do this thing that has a 99.9999% failure rate changes when you are the safety net. And so. If we're talking about why there aren't more underrepresented people at Google, we're having a different conversation. Google is an idiot. They should be on top of this. They should be doing 10 times better than they are doing.
And we're talking about why there are no more underrepresented people doing startups. We have to have the real conversation. And what I'd say is that there are enough people in the startup ecosystem that you can get funded. I've seen it. I have funded female founders, black founders, Spanic founders, founders from God knows how many countries around the world.
I can't promise that everyone you pitch will give you a good experience, but I can promise you there's money out there. I've done it. And I can point you to other people who do it. What I can't do is tell you that you should sacrifice your family to do a startup. That's what I won't do. And so that's the hard bit.
Right? And, and like, man, it turns out that most of the headlines for any important debate are kind of irrelevant, right? You kind of have to dig deeper to figure out what's really going on. Now I don't shit on the activists who are saying VCs don't fund enough underrepresented founders. I love it.
Activists are great. Like everyone's feet and needs to be held to the fire. I want VCs to be thinking, how do we fund more women? How do we fund more underrepresented founders for sure. But let's be clear like that alone doesn't create them. And so if we don't tackle some of the more important problems in our country, it's going to take a while to, to, to change this math.
So anyways, that's how I think about it. That's really insightful. And thank you so much for those explanations.
Thanks so much for having me. Thanks so much, Michael.
This is amazing. Really, really appreciate you taking the time. And this was awesome. I learned a ton myself too, so that's great. Awesome. Cheers, everyone. See it.
Thanks for listening. If you want to learn more about us, feel free to follow the Yale entrepreneurial society, Facebook page, and check out our email@example.com for myself, I curate the best startup teachings that I can find
you can find all of that at my Twitter handle at Chris Hill app C H R I S H L a D.