notes from startup school

Startup school was in session at Stanford University a little over a week ago, on Saturday, April 29th. I commuted six hours to check out the event. If you're at all interested in starting your own company or participating in a startup, you will really benefit from this sort of venue.

If you are not familiar with startup school yet, then you will find a lot of good information to begin with at the startup school website. Essentially, a day of presentations by (serial) entrepreneurs and industry experts, this is a wonderful event for several reasons.

The speakers had without exception great knowledge to share, ranging from high-level descriptions of processes involved in founding a company over startup war stories to technical design decisions that were made when constructing specific systems.

There are numerous networking opportunities. Be it at organized dinners for a select group, informal lunches or parties or many, many brief conversations during the day. It's truly exciting to see so many people working on (or planning to work on) so many interesting ideas and projects (a brief selection of which can be found at the statup school wiki).

There is a tremendous, positive energy prevelant at startup school. The chatter began in anticipation before the day and the discussion is certainly still continuing today. Be it on the aforementioned Wiki or on numerous blogs, discussion groups and other social online venues.

Some additional impressions:

  • Women were a distinct minority at this event. How many? I did not count, but do not believe I saw more than maybe ten.
  • Food was hard to come by during the lunch break. It almost seemed as if the cafeteria was a tad unprepared for several hundred hungry geeks.
  • Laptops were obviously a commonly seen piece of equipment. Preferrably ones made by Apple. Battery power being understandably limited, it was likewise common to see people scramble for power outlets during breaks so as to recharge said machines.
  • Contradictions were luckily not something that the speakers were afraid of. Paul Graham asserted that no, it's no actually just about money (please refer to his latest essay The hardest lessons for startups to learn, which he presented there), and Om Malik happily disagreed: "Of course you want to become rich!"
  • Patent lawyers can have a really tough time when trying to spread excitement (especially right before lunch) for patents in front of an audience, most of which end up clapping and laughing when a speaker remarks that Microsoft's stock price just dropped significantly days before.
  • PowerPoint presentations came in all kinds of shapes during the day. Joe Kraus had the best one in my opinion as it integrated seamlessly into his talk. Joshua Schachter stood out with a Zen-like presentation - each slide contained about one word. Several others had no PowerPoint presentation (Om Malik emphasized the power of the index card) or struggled with rather sporadic hardware support during it.
  • Google was represented by Chris Sacca. He had some good advice regarding project proposals, but otherwise it seemed to me he focused a little to much describing the many perks of working at Google.
  • Hamsters are what come to mind now, when I think about Yahoo!'s recent acquisition of Flickr. If you were there, you'll know what I am talking about. I don't think I'll forget the image.
  • Lazy office workers are the next great opportunity. Om Malik points at the daily traffic spike at YouTube (between 1 and 2.30 pm!) and urges us to consider the possibilities.

Again, if you are interested in entrepreneurship, specifically in the area of software startups, this is the event to check out. I hope they'll keep having them and I hope I can go again. It is absolutely worth it.