How I fell in love with the startup world

Original author: Jessica Livingston
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How I fell in love with the startup world

The best events in my life happened by chance.

Most people don’t know that I was “hooked” on startups when I was preparing my book, Founders at Work, . Writing the book inspired me to help startups at an early stage - and ultimately prompted the creation of Y Combinator .

Eleven years ago, I was vice president of marketing for an investment bank. The work was insanely boring, and I got tired of doing all kinds of garbage like press releases that didn't bother me at all. Once I was at a party surrounded by strangers to me. I went there to meet a friend, and upon arrival I found out that he was participating in the Wesley Clark presidential campaign in Arkansas. . I really wanted to turn around and leave. But, at the last moment, I decided to hang a little.

In search of an outlet, I found myself in the company of Paul Graham , the host of the party. He was a programmer - he developed Viaweb , a company that allowed users to create their own online stores. This was the very first web application. We got along and started dating.

Paul and his friends introduced me to the world of startups. At first, I didn’t work on them, and, of course, I didn’t understand the ideas behind startups, as well as what led them to success. But all this intrigued me so much that I started my own side project - I decided to write a book about this crazy world. I wanted to help people figure out how startup founders succeed. In the image of the series of books “Writers at Work” (Paris Review), I decided to call my work “Founders at Work” and began to interview the founders of the companies about how they started their business.

In the end, it led me to people like Steve Wozniak (Apple), Craig Newmark (Craigslist), Max Levichin (PayPal). While working on the book, I learned a lot. For instance:
  1. That besides the understanding of the business world that I brought from Wall Street, there is a completely different way of doing things, a practically parallel universe.
  2. That this new world is not only fascinating, but also encourages to develop intellectually.
  3. Everyone knows that Apple started in the garage before becoming a huge successful company, but people have no idea how much everything went wrong at first. But now we know that these events were critical to the success of the company.
  4. And finally, the fact that most startups are born by chance, without a great thought-out idea and without significant funding.
Startup world

The information that I learned in these interviews was so interesting and amazing. Soon I realized that all this leads me to something more. Initially, with my book, I just wanted to inspire people to launch startups, and give them an understanding of the first steps for this.

I did not expect that these stories will affect me so much that I decide to start something like a startup myself. Then I did not understand how much meaning it would bring to my life the opportunity to support the ideas of the founders, and that some of these ideas would be very successful. Paul and I launched Y Combinator with Trevor and Robert for fun, to give startup founders some typical way to get initial funding. We were not at all sure that this would work at all.

There were many “accidents” on our way. For example, when we launched Y Combinator in 2005, we hosted the “Summer Founders Program” with eight startups. We decided to finance several startups at once, because neither Paul nor I knew anything about angel investing, we considered this to be the best way to figure it out. Initially, we intended to devote autumn to walking around the funds, picking them up one for each startup. But we soon realized that it was much more beneficial to finance startups in groups, to gather all these people in one place. Otherwise, the process could drag on, become painful and boring. It turned out that it is very important to form a community of like-minded people who are able to support each other. Since then, we have been selecting funds for a whole group of startups right away.

Everyone, from Bill Gates to Larry Page and Sergey Brin, started small. At first, no one believed in their ideas, they were faced with denial, they had to break through obstacles. But they had the determination to keep going when many others would have given up. With my book Founders at Work, I wanted to help those people whom the world of ordinary business had rejected. I tried to give hope to those who faced constant resistance, and to teach them what startups begin with. By helping them, I can bring something completely new to the world.

In between, Paul and I got married. What a blessing that I went to that party.

The momentRecorded dictation: Adrian Day
GIF to attract attention: Pitero McCullough, using the Samsung Galaxy S6 edge
Illustrations: Toka Maer ∎

About the author: Jessica Livingston is one of the founders of the Y Combinator venture capital fund.

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