And I asked him what it was that Paul Graham saw in him, and he couldn’t define it. He and Steve were both smart, and they were determined, and they seemed flexible. We bring these people in for interviews, and I think a lot of them think Jessica is some kind of secretary, or something like that because she’s the one who smiles at them and greets them and remembers their name. So Jessica was really happy when we ended up funding the Reddits after all because she was bummed that we had to reject them. Let’s pause here and go back a little bit and talk about the people who started Y-Combinator with you. We decided in our second batch that we would try doing one in California, partly because it’s much nicer in California in the winter. I don’t know how I knew it, but I knew about this website and I knew it was really good. They were not just thinking, “Oh, maybe we’ll start a startup.” And then a few months later, they’ll say, “Oh, maybe we won’t.” Right? So Wufoos were so nervous, and after the interview, reactions were divided about whether to fund them.
So now that I’ve got you here, what is it about him? They seemed like they really wanted to start a startup. We pepper them with questions about technical stuff during the interview and she doesn’t ask as many questions. In that talk, you said that it’s important to get the right team together. Paul: Yeah, it was basically the same three people from Viaweb. So we could be self-indulgent and also ambitious at the same time. Obviously, they had some practice doing projects together and they could work well together.
The application form for that batch said on it, “We don’t know where it’s going to be. And the only way we could get a space in time was to carve out a piece of Trevor’s robot company building, which is where I’m sitting now. Andrew: This is [inaudible ] any thoughts [inaudible ]. And actually the Y-Combinator alumni kind of hose us here because they tell people how to pretend to be determined during the interview. You can’t just ask people, “So are you really determined? I have a box of Obama-Os on the shelf behind me, in fact.
The smile, by the way, that I was asking you about. Paul: Yeah, ambitious and upstart, that’s exactly what I’m looking for. As I told you earlier, I’m going to be structuring this as the biography of Y-Combinator and along the way, I’d like to see what you’ve learned as you funded, I think it’s 172 startups, you told me. I thought, “Jesus, they’re all going to email me their business plans.” So I said, “Not me.” Right? Which is not to say that is the only age you want to start a startup, but the age range of potentially successful startups extends frighteningly low. Whereas Viaweb was down for like 10-minutes, we would have a lot of really angry people calling us. But you’re saying there’s a limit to when they could call you. Like, start a new search engine with no features that are any different from Google.
A lot of times when I do my interviews, I start them off with “home of the ambitious upstart,” and I look at the person who I respect, who I brought on here to do this interview, and I wonder, does he think it’s ridiculous, or is this a charming, interesting part of the program? Because I had never done any angel investing at that point and I didn’t want to start. I went to dinner with some of them afterward and I thought, “Even though these guys are just undergrads, I bet a lot of these guys could do it. Andrew: How did you find Jessica Livingston, and what was it about her? Andrew: I think, actually, you said that the cutoff was 38 and you’re over 38, running essentially a startup with Y-Combinator. If they had a question in the middle of the night, at , they’d have to wait till the next day to call you. You’ve tried this.” And that’s why people come out of the interview thinking, “Oh, my god. If someone was determined to do that as their idea, we would reject it.
: This interview is sponsored by Wufoo, which makes embeddable forms in surveys that you can add to your website right now. It’s also sponsored by Shopify.com, where you can create an online store right now, within five minutes, and have all the features that you need to keep selling online. And it’s sponsored by Grasshopper, the virtual phone system that entrepreneurs love because it has all the features that they need, and can be managed directly online. Hey, everyone, it’s Andrew Warner, founder of Mixergy.com, home of the ambitious upstart. I interview entrepreneurs about how they build their business to find out what the rest of us can learn from their experiences. Or, sorry, who would have done all that very important work? Somehow I seem to be able to look at a web app and think, “No, this is wrong, this is right.” And now I can say it, “Well, it’s because I’ve worked with 172 startups. What did you learn from that first experience of working with a batch of entrepreneurs on new companies? We learned some of these we had done by accident were really good. Paul: It’s okay if people are doing a search that’s not exactly the same thing as Google.
And, Paul, I’m going to ask you about that smile in a minute because I’d love your feedback on some of the ways that I do my interviews here. He is the co-founder of Y-Combinator, which funds and advises startups. Paul: Well, what happened was I was giving them advice, sort of in real time, that they should raise money from angels. Now I have tons of experience, probably more than anybody else.” But I seem to always have some kind of natural ability to do this. Like funding a whole bunch of startups at once is really good because they can all help one another. How do you know if the business idea is going to be big enough? One of your startups was going to get into search, or . So for example, Octopart does electronic parts search. There’s a startup in the current batch that hasn’t launched yet, or at least hasn’t outed themselves, what I see as doing search.
I know about the weekly dinners that Alexis Ohanian said that he got a lot out of. It turned out we had a knack for this, from having worked so long making web apps ourselves, literally since the beginning. That’s another thing that Alexis told me, that the idea for Reddit came from you and a lot of the entrepreneurs who you have backed have told me [inaudible ]. I called them on the phone and said, “We loved you guys, even though we rejected you. I never know how to pronounce them, even though I use this.
I mean, they have basically the same experience I do, in the same companies, and I can work with them. Andrew: What kind of help did you give them as you were doing this? When they came back from the next day and we talked for quite a long time the next day, and we cooked up something in that.
What else did you do to support them along the way? And we got them set up cleanly, so if there was some weird gotcha about the IP, like they had started working on the thing with their previous employer, we would tell them, “No, rewrite that code.” So by the time they got to the end, at demo day, they were like a clean start out, with no weird gotchas that would make investors barf, like former co-founders who were gone, but still had 30% of the company, or they didn’t own their IP, or someone hadn’t signed some agreement or something like that. We told them we didn’t like their original idea and we said, “Come back and we’ll talk about other ideas,” right? Yes, you did create Viaweb, and you saw it all the way through to a sale to Yahoo, and you got to see the inside of a big company like Yahoo.
I know that the entrepreneurs got to talk to each other and show each other their progress. Paul: The idea for Reddit was a combination of us and them, okay? You said, “Here’s an idea, go run with it.” And they did go out there, and actually it was an idea that you guys came up with together? If you come back, we’ll figure out something new for you to do.” Andrew: I see. I mean, yes, you did create one of the early web apps.
In fact, I’m kind of surprised it took as long as it did. Andrew: Did you get the sense, by then, of the kind of entrepreneur you wanted, that maybe there was a kind of entrepreneur that you thought you wanted but wasn’t a good fit? People who really did think of it just as a summer job at the end of the summer, they would go back to school, just like people do at a summer job. We can tell in a 10-minute interview how smart someone is. There’s often a point in the interview where we all kind of look at one another and decide, “Okay.