YC’s Essential Startup Advice — Geoff Ralston, Michael Seibel | YC 

A lot of the advice we give  startups  is tactical; meant to be helpful on a day to day or week to week basis. But some advice is more fundamental. We’ve collected here what we at  YC  consider the most important, most transformative advice for  startups . Whether common sense or counter-intuitive, the guidance below will help most  startups  find their path to success. 
The first thing we always tell founders is to launch their  product  right away; for the simple reason that this is the only way to fully understand customers’  problems  and whether the  product  meets their needs. Surprisingly, launching a mediocre  product  as soon as possible, and then talking to customers and iterating, is much better than waiting to build the “perfect”  product . This is true as long as the  product  contains a “quantum of utility” for customers whose value overwhelms  problems  any warts might present. 
Once launched, we suggest founders do things that don’t scale (Do Things That Don’t Scale by  Paul Graham    http://paulgraham.com/ds.html).  Many  startup  advisors persuade  startups  to scale way too early. This will require the building of technology and processes to support that scaling, which, if premature, will be a waste of  time  and effort. This strategy often leads to failure and even  startup  death. Rather, we tell  startups  to get their first customer by any means necessary, even by manual  work  that couldn’t be managed for more than ten, much less 100 or 1000 customers. At this stage, founders are still trying to figure out what needs to be built and the best way to do that is talk directly to customers. For example, the  Airbnb  founders originally offered to “professionally” photograph the homes and apartments of their earliest customers in order to make their listings more attractive to renters. Then, they went and took the photographs themselves. The listings on their site improved, conversions improved, and they had amazing conversations with their customers. This was entirely unscalable, yet proved essential in  learning  how to build a vibrant marketplace. 
Talking to users usually yields a long, complicated list of features to build. One piece of advice that  YC  partner Paul Buchheit (PB) always gives in this case is to look for the “90/10 solution”. That is, look for a way in which you can accomplish 90% of what you want with only 10% of the work/effort/time. If you  search  hard for it, there is almost always a 90/10 solution available. Most importantly, a 90% solution to a real customer  problem  which is available right away, is much better than a 100% solution that takes ages to build. 
As companies begin to grow there are often tons of potential distractions. Conferences, dinners, meeting with venture capitalists or large company corporate development types (Don’t Talk to Corp Dev by  Paul Graham    http://www.paulgraham.com/corpdev.html),  chasing after  press  coverage and so on. ( YC  co-founder Jessica Livingston created a pretty comprehensive list of the wrong things on which to focus [How Not To Fail by Jessica Livingston  https://www.ycombinator.com/library/5l-how-not-to-...  We always remind founders not to lose sight that the most important tasks for an  early stage  company are to write code and talk to users. For any company, software or otherwise, this means that in order to make something people want: you must launch something, talk to your users to see if it serves their needs, and then take their  feedback  and iterate. These tasks should occupy almost all of your time/focus. For great companies this cycle never ends. Similarly, as your company evolves there will be many times where founders are forced to choose between multiple directions for their company.  Sam Altman  always points out that it is nearly always better to take the more ambitious path. It is actually extraordinary how often founders manage to avoid tackling these sorts of  problems  and focus on other things. Sam calls this “fake work”, because it tends to be more fun than real  work  (The  Post   YC  Slump by  Sam Altman    https://blog.samaltman.com/the-post-yc-slump).
When it comes to customers most founders don’t realize that they get to choose customers as much as customers get to choose them. We often say that a small group of customers who love you is better than a large group who kind of like you. In other words,  recruiting  10 customers who have a burning  problem  is much better than 1000 customers who have a passing annoyance. It is easy to make mistakes when choosing your customers so sometimes it’s also critical for  startups  to fire their customers5. Some customers can cost way more than they provide in either revenue or  learning . For example,  Justin.tv  /  Twitch  only became a breakout success when they focused their efforts toward  video  game broadcasters and away from people trying to stream copy written content (Users You Don’t Want by  Michael Seibel    http://www.michaelseibel.com/blog/users-you-don-t-...
Growth  is always a focus for  startups , since a  startup  without  growth  is usually a failure. However, how and when to grow is often misunderstood.  YC  is sometimes criticised for pushing companies to grow at all costs, but in fact we push companies to talk to their users, build what they want, and iterate quickly.  Growth  is a natural result of doing these three things successfully. Yet,  growth  is not always the right choice. If you have not yet made something your customers want - in other words, have found  product-market fit , it makes little sense to grow (The Real  Product-Market Fit    https://www.michaelseibel.com/blog/the-real-produc...  by  Michael Seibel ). Poor retention is always the result. Also, if you have an unprofitable  product growth  merely drains cash from the company. As PB likes to say, it never makes sense to take 80 cents from a customer and then hand them a  dollar  back. The fact that  unit economics  really matter shouldn’t come as a surprise, but too many  startups  seem to forget this basic fact ( Unit Economics  by  Sam Altman    https://blog.samaltman.com/unit-economics).
Startup  founders’ intuition will always be to do more whereas usually the best strategy is almost always to do less, really well. For example, founders are frequently tempted to chase big deals with large companies which represent amazing, company validating  relationships . However, deals between large companies and tiny  startups  seldom end well for the  startup . They take too long, cost too much, and often fail completely. One of the hardest things about doing a  startup  is choosing what to do, since you will always have an infinite list of things that could be done ( Startup  Priorities by  Geoff Ralston    http://blog.geoffralston.com/startup-priorities).  It is vital that very early a  startup  choose the one or two key  metrics  it will use to measure success, then founders should choose what to do based nearly exclusively on how the task will impact those  metrics . When your  early stage   product  isn’t working it's often tempting to immediately build new features in order to solve every  problem  the customer seems to have instead of talking to the customer and focusing only on the most acute  problem  they have. 
Founders often find it surprising to hear that they shouldn’t worry if their company seems badly broken. It turns out that nearly every  startup  has deep, fundamental issues, even those that will end up being billion  dollar  companies. Success is not determined by whether you are broken at the beginning, but rather what the founders do about the inevitable  problems . Your job as a founder will often seem to be continuously righting a capsized ship. This is normal. 
It is very difficult as a new  startup  founder not to obsess about  competition , actual and potential. It turns out that spending any  time  worrying about your competitors is nearly always a very bad idea. We like to say that  startup  companies always die of suicide not murder. There will come a  time  when competitive dynamics are intensely important to the success or failure of your company, but it is highly unlikely to be true in the first year or two. 
A few words on  fundraising  (A Guide to Seed  Fundraising    https://ycombinator.wpengine.com/how-to-raise-a-se...  by  Geoff Ralston ). The first, best bit of advice is to raise  money  as quickly as possible and then get back to  work . It is often easy to actually see when a company is  fundraising  by looking at their  growth  curve and when it flattens out they are raising  money . Equally important is to understand that valuation is not equal to success or even probability of success ( Fundraising  Rounds are not Milestones  https://ycombinator.wpengine.com/fundraising-round...  by  Michael Seibel ). Some of Y Combinator’s very best companies raised on tiny initial valuations ( Airbnb Dropbox Twitch , are all good examples). By the way, it is vital to remember that the  money  you raise IS NOT your  money . You have a fiduciary and ethical/moral duty to spend the  money  only to improve the prospects of your company. 
It is also important to stay sane during the inevitable craziness of  startup   life . So we always tell founders to make sure they take breaks, spend  time  with friends and family, get enough  sleep  and  exercise  in between bouts of extraordinarily intense, focused  work . Lastly, a brief word on failure. It turns out most companies fail fast because founders fall out. The  relationships  with your cofounders matter more than you think and open, honest communications between founders makes  future  debacles much less likely. In fact, it turns out that one of the best things you can do to make your  startup  successful, in fact, to be successful in  life , is to simply be nice (Mean People Fail by  Paul Graham    http://www.paulgraham.com/mean.html).

The Pocket Guide of Essential  YC  Advice 

  • Launch now 
  • Build something people want 
  • Do things that don't scale 
  • Find the 90 / 10 solution 
  • Find 10-100 customers who love your  product
  • All  startups  are badly broken at some point 
  • Write code - talk to users 
  • "It’s not your money" 
  • Growth  is the result of a great  product  not the precursor 
  • Don’t scale your team/product until you have built something people want 
  • Valuation is not equal to success or even probability of success 
  • Avoid long negotiated deals with big customers if you can 
  • Avoid big company corporate development queries - they will only waste  time
  • Avoid conferences unless they are the best way to get customers 
  • Pre-product market fit - do things that don’t scale: remain small/nimble 
  • Startups  can only solve one  problem  well at any given  time
  • Founder  relationships  matter more than you think 
  • Sometimes you need to fire your customers (they might be killing you) 
  • Ignore your competitors, you will more likely die of suicide than murder 
  • Most companies don't die because they run out of  money
  • Be nice! Or at least don’t be a jerk 
  • Get  sleep  and  exercise  - take care of yourself 

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