Friday, August 30, 2013

Hive 53's Summer Swarm 2013 #2

This past Wednesday evening, Hive 53 had their second Swarm this summer.  We had a special guest.  His name is Bartek Gola from Poznan.  He is the General Partner and CEO at SpeedUp Venture Capital Group.  They are involved in the growth of 25 startups in the Poznan area.  The funny thing is that the VC group is a startup themselves.  He came to share some of his wisdom with the startups of Krakow.  In a previous post, you read about the Emotional Rollercoaster that every entrepreneur faces.  He shared this rollercoaster with us.  I agree with him that like a good golf swing, business is mostly mental rather than hard skills.   When I stop over-thinking the swing, I end up making the best shots.  

The good news for all entrepreneurs is that they are not alone.  Everyone experiences the same thing.  This "ride" can apply to just about anything in life, be it a relationship or a political campaign.  Mr. Gola gave us three ways to help us from crashing:

1. Do your job right and make use of all the knowledge and wisdom you can get.

2. When conditions are right, go to market as soon as possible. "Revenue solves all known problems."

3. Understand that your problems and fears are 100% normal.   

As long as you can keep calm and learn to tread water, you will be okay.  He encourages us not to give up.  

Here is a message to you from Mr. Gola:

"Come to Poland! Take a look around and see all the exciting things that are happening here.  People have great skills and are well educated.  It's worth investing. " 

This startup made a pitch at the Swarm: 

Pen Nochio is a set of educational apps being developed by Mofables. It uses scientifically proven systematic phonetic method to teach toddler to read. Parental app is planned that provide parents with handful of useful tips how to increase the learning effectiveness and give them a way to boast about their kids progress.  

Emotional Rollercoaster of Entrepreneurs... What a Ride!

Harnessing Entrepreneurial Manic-Depression: Making the Rollercoaster Work for You
by Tim Ferriss
The sky is falling!

Ever since the media’s Chicken Little response to the tremors in the financial markets, I’ve felt like shouting from the rooftops “now you know how it feels to be an entrepreneur!”
I just lost 9% overnight?! Fill a bathtub and get the toaster. I’ve had enough.
Wait… I actually gained 13% while in the bathroom? I’m f**king Superman!
This is a guest post on capitalizing on — vs. countering — the “entrepreneur’s disease” (manic depression) through 4 cyclical stages. This is done by pairing appropriate activities to specific — though not necessarily positive — emotional states…
The author is Cameron Herold, former COO of 1-800-GOT-JUNK, whose professional resume includes:
-Helping build revenues from $2 Million to $105 Million in 6 years (no debt or outside shareholders)
-Building a PR team that landed more than 5,000 stories in those same 6 years
-Hiring 220 people in 4 months
-Leading the sale, branding, and integration of 450+ franchise locations.
-Teaching his psychological theories at the Entrepreneurial Masters Program at MIT.
I first saw this presentation at an Entepreneurs’ Organization (EO) event in Omaha prior to my successful Warren Buffett quest at the annual Berkshire Hathaway shareholders meeting.
I encourage you all to read this, especially with the fear mongering that is just getting started.
Marc Andreessen, co-founder of Netscape, once wrote:
First and foremost, a start-up puts you on an emotional rollercoaster unlike anything you have ever experienced. You flip rapidly from day-to-day – one where you are euphorically convinced you are going to own the world, to a day in which doom seems only weeks away and you feel completely ruined, and back again. Over and over and over. And I’m talking about what happens to stable entrepreneurs. There is so much uncertainty and so much risk around practically everything you are doing. The level of stress that you’re under generally will magnify things incredible highs and unbelievable lows at whiplash speed and huge magnitude. Sound like fun?”
Many ultra-successful entrepreneurs are even clinically diagnosed as manic-depressive or bi-polar. Francis Ford Coppola has it. So does Ted Turner.
This article is about the emotional intricacies of being an entrepreneur – about what you’re going to feel during the journey.
The concept that we’re going to examine is called the Transition Curve. It resembles a rollercoaster.
Regardless of whether or not you believe you will ride an emotional rollercoaster running a business, you will. You have two fundamental choices: you can hold on and scream, or you can wave your hands in the air and have some fun.
I’m going to walk you through these different analogies, but let’s first look at the various stages of this process, which repeat.
* Stage 1: The first stage of the concept is called “Uninformed Optimism”. At this stage on a rollercoaster, just getting to the top of the rollercoaster, you experience feelings of an adrenalin rush, characterized by excitement and nervous energy.
* Stage 2: The second stage is called “Informed Pessimism”. As you ride over the top of the curve you now have a bit more information. Feelings of fear, nervousness, and frustration begin to set in. Perhaps you even want to get off of it.
* Stage 3 : The third stage is called “Crisis of Meaning”. You’re past scared. You feel despair. It’s as if you’re standing on the edge of a cliff ready to jump, and you begin to think “Today the rollercoaster’s going off the bottom of the track for the very first time.” You feel helpless and you’re both terrified and frozen.
* At this point, you face a critical juncture. You can come off the bottom of the curve and crash and burn, which is when your business goes bankrupt, you lose your marriage, you start drinking, or you end up in a doctor’s office because of stress. Or you can come around the corner because you’re getting support at “Crisis of Meaning” and you can enter an upward swing call “Informed Optimism”.
* Stage 4 : Informed Optimism. You’re calm. You’re informed. You might even say you are cautiously optimistic.

Capitalizing on All Emotional Phases — Activity Pairing
Here is the critical point – at each stage of the curve, you can do things to leverage the feelings and energy — positive or negative — that you have at that moment. Fighting against these phases is like working against a natural force.

Stage 1 – Uninformed Optimism
As an example – at Stage 1 – Uninformed Optimism – it’s both a great place and a dangerous place to be for your business, depending on what you are working on or in at that time.
When you’re starting your business, you have seed financing, some friend and family money, or you’ve just started the business with $50 in your pocket. You can start a business without a lot of money directly because you’re benefiting from uninformed optimism. You can take risks when you’re feeling like this. Because you’re so full of excitement you don’t really know what’s coming yet. So you’re uninformed and your fully optimistic – or you wouldn’t have started.
When you’re at Uniformed Optimism you should be doing things like:
* Talking to the media. Imagine if a newspaper calls you when you’re at that stage of uninformed optimism. How’s your media interview going to go? It’s going to go amazing because you have unbridled excitement and big thinking.
* Talking to potential investors. That’s why everyone was investing through the 90s with the dotcom bubble. The entrepreneurs were so full of uninformed optimism and enthusiasm.
* Doing speeches in public – the audience will love you.
* Recruiting new employees – they’ll all want to work for you.
* Networking for new clients – who wouldn’t want to buy from you?
When you’re at Uniformed Optimism there are also some things you should avoid doing:
* Spending money is a bad thing to be doing at this point. Because when you are really excited and full of optimism you think nothing will go wrong. The last thing you want to be doing is spending all this money because the reality is – at some point, you’ll cross the curve and discover harsher realities.
* You don’t want to be doing business planning
* You don’t want to be working on your budget
* You don’t want to be making buying decisions
* You don’t want to be making hiring decisions
* You don’t want to be doing your accounting, or your bookkeeping.
* Anything that requires you to be making financial decisions or planning logical shouldn’t be done when you’re at the manic energy or uninformed optimism stage.
Remember that when you’re at that uninformed optimism stage, anything that’s outward facing — talking about your company, selling the story, raising money — is well-matched. Simultaneously, at that stage, you don’t want to make buying decisions, or hiring decisions, or planning decisions, or budgeting decisions.
Stage 2 – Informed Pessimism
At Stage 2 – Informed Pessimism – you have more information now. You’re not as excited as you once were. Coffee is helpful to get you started. You are worrying at times. You aren’t depressed or scared – but you’re somewhere in between scared and excited. You’re just a little bit pessimistic now. The great aspect of this stage is that it prevents you from making careless mistakes due to overly optimistic thinking.
When you’re at Informed Pessimism you should be doing things like:
* Planning the next phase of your growth
* Intermediate-term strategic planning
* Budgeting, as you’ll be more realistic
* Purchasing things like advertising – you’ll be careful with where you spend your money and will not over-purchase advertising based on exuberant pie-in-the-sky sales forecasts.
When you’re at Informed Pessimism, there are also a few things you should absolutely avoid doing.
Do not:
* make hiring decisions.
* talk to the media or do speaking events.
* work in roles where being excited would help you get a better result – wait until things turn around emotionally for you.
Stage 3 – Crisis of Meaning
This is a scary stage and can feel like you’re standing on the edge of a building needing to jump. It will feel like all the odds are stacked against you and that everything is going wrong. It will be hard to get out of bed in the morning. Sleeping at night will be close to impossible due to worries and fear. You’ll feel like you’re paralyzed and can do little more than clean your filing cabinet drawers successfully.
When you’re at Crisis of Meaning you should be doing things like:
* Cleaning your filing cabinet drawers – seriously. Doing a few little things can often perk people up.
* Reaching out to your support groups like friends, family, your church, groups like the Entrepreneurs Organization etc. to ask them for help, advice or to just lend an ear.
* Trying to set your TOP 5 daily and only work on the most important items each day.
* Taking breaks and going for walks, getting exercise, getting outdoors.
* Writing lists – lists about what you are strong at, lists about what you love – make lists that, when you read them, will help rebuild your confidence.
* Realizing that many others have been in this exact same place and usually turn the corner, just like you will.
* Remembering “The Little Engine That Could” – I think I can, I think I can – it can take time, but things will rebound.
When you’re at Crisis of Meaning there are also some things you should absolutely avoid doing:
* Don’t talk to others who are depressed.
* Don’t talk to others who are “half empty” types
* Don’t take any “all-in” Vegas poker type risks where you put everything on the line hoping for a big win.
* Don’t try to “rally the troops.” Your employees, the media ,etc. will all smell fear. And your fear will lead to making things worse
* Don’t turn to the bottle. Vices during stages of depression will lead to you spiraling out of control.
* Don’t think that you can “handle it” all on your own. You can’t. And when people “need” others, your true friends really will be there to support you
* Don’t try to learn more. Reading books and magazines about how to be successful or how to grow your company will only make you feel worse about your current situation. They’ll just make you feel even more bogged down. Reading stuff like this is great when you round the corner though.
Stage 4 – Crash & Burn
I don’t really waste any time explaining this stage or what to do here – because if you slide off the curve, here it really is over – the company is done and/or so are you in the role leading it. Usually this is bankruptcy or forced sale, etc..
Stage 5 – Informed Optimism (or Hopeful Realization)
This last stage is much like when the little engine that could turned the corner – and realized “he did”. You’ll start feeling excited and energized again. You’ll start rebuilding your confidence. And you’ll start to feel momentum working in your favor again. You’ll also have a lot more insights and experiential learning to draw from. You’ll realize you have more competence and confidence than before and everything will start to go your way again.
When you’re at Informed Optimism you should be doing things like:
· Hiring
· Strategic Planning
· Reorganization of your team – putting the right people in the right seats
· Cutting the wrong people
· Generally getting everything in order to really start growing again.
When you’re at Informed Optimism there are also things you should avoid doing:
· Don’t lose focus.
· Don’t let your confidence slip.
· Don’t get cocky or you’ll fall backwards off the curve.
This cycle repeats itself. Enjoy the ride instead of fighting it.

Guest author Cameron Herold’s training modules are used by CEOs and companies in more than 15 countries

October 3, 2008

This is a repost of an article that appeared on The Blog of Tim Ferriss 

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Open Coffee Krakow #18: August 29, 2013

Hello readers,

This morning was the 18th edition of Hive 53's Open CoffeeKRK. The following startups made their pitch: – dropbox without a cloud – online video real estate presentation service – a travel advices website
TedxKrakow – Krakow's version of the popular inspirational talks TED (registration starts 1st of September for their 25th of October event) – software developer from Gliwice
Satus Ventures - connecting innovative originators with conscious private investors
InnovationNest - An acceleration program based on customer development

Summary and announcements

As you can see many IT startups made mini-pitches this morning. In addition to these:

On October 1, 2013, Google for Entreprenuers on the Main Market Square will be organizing a Speed Mentoring Session. More information can be found here. Unfortunately, the information is in Polish. You can probably use Google Translate to get a good idea about it.

Innovation Nest announced their Startup Stage event for September 16th at 7pm. (it is a Polish language event) Go to their website for more infromation. While there, it is worth checking out „Office Hours” as well as „Spin School”.

The sectors of the participants weren't as varied as before, but one must be aware that it is the end of holiday season here in Poland. Many people are most-likely trying to end their summer in style by going on one last vacation. Just wait, once autumn rolls around, things will really pick up steam. As promised, I am in the process of doing a lot of the research and travelling all over town in order to be able to provide you a fuller picture of the Krakow Startup Ecosystem. Thank you for reading!


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A Government Official's Concerns about Polish Startups


What must Poland do to unleash its entrepreneurial potential?

by Robert Kowalski

Poland is at the heart of an entrepreneurial revolution. For many decades of the 20th century, people would have laughed out loud at the idea. The country was stifled by communist central planning, the deadweight of bureaucracy.

Thanks to the country’s openness, powerful Polish diaspora and the high level of education – especially in the technical fields – Poland has the potential to be an economy driven by entrepreneurial innovation.

Poland could do better and one of the great challenges lies in realising the country’s great entrepreneurial potential. What is the source of Poland’s entrepreneurial spirit? What can it learn from other economies in the region?

To get an idea of Polish resilience, look at the unspoken competition with Spain. While in 1920 Poland and Spain were practically on the same development level in GDP per capita terms, by 1990 Spain’s GDP per capita was nearly 2.5 times that of Poland.

But as of 2011 Spain’s GDP per capita was just 1.5 times larger. Over the 1990–2011 period Poland increased its GDP by 121% – more than any other Central Eastern European (CEE) economy, or Spain’s which grew by approximately 62%.

This is quite an accomplishment for a country that lost one-sixth of its population in WW2 and which has gone through five economic systems in the past 200 years: 19th century feudalism and liberal capitalism, national economic policy in the interwar period, central planning under communism and today’s liberal capitalism with its bureaucratic constraints and large state-controlled corporations. Perhaps it is exactly these obstacles that spurred the surge in private business ownership after 1989.

Poles never lost their sense of enterprise. The liberal economic reforms of Leszek Balcerowicz after the collapse of communist rule made a bazaar out of the whole country: street corner trading, importing and exporting, setting up shops and businesses.

Polish bazaars remain alive and well throughout the country

Cutting government spending and introducing market rules by relaxing regulations on enterprises, trade, money and travel activated informal networks and street-smart skills. Through extraordinary politics something spectacularly straightforward happened – supply met demand.

From empty shops and empty food shelves all of a sudden farmers’ produce came to the streets. International trade in all basic and electronic goods imaginable back then grew dramatically in the 1990s, with great fortunes amassed and consumption growing. Many who had emigrated earlier to the West came back and brought capital, business contacts and skills to build capitalism here. Economic freedom let people exploit opportunities and build wealth, while creeping bureaucracy increased the burden of regulation slowly with time.

In 1995 Poland had around one million active firms. Today it boasts over 1.7m active companies, with small and medium enterprises (SMEs) representing 99.8% of all firms, and 96% of all SMEs being micro-enterprises with below nine people employed.

This is because of specific labour and tax regulations that make it popular to ‘stay small’ or self-employed rather than grow your business into a gargantuan organisation with complex regulations and taxes. Part of the cause also lies in a sufficient level of income. Still, enterprises generate about 72% of Poland’s GDP, with SMEs accounting for over 50% of GDP and employing over 70% of the entire workforce.

Entrepreneurial attitudes put Poland among the top in Europe. According to a 2012 study by GfK for Amway, about 84% of young Poles aged 15–29 have a positive attitude towards entrepreneurship and 62% imagine themselves running their own business.

Success stories and the local start-up eco-system 
Poland’s EU entry in 2004 was followed by a large migration wave to the West, into the UK especially. Emigrant Poles showed they are dynamic, hard-working, capable of successfully setting up their own businesses and rising in the ranks of local society.

This is not surprising to those who know that over the past several decades companies like Apple, PayPal, Warner Brothers, Metro Goldwyn Mayer, Fashion TV, 23andMe, SilkRoad Technology and Haagen-Dazs were founded or co-founded by Polish migrants, many of whom where of Polish-Jewish background. Since the 1980s local entrepreneurs in Poland have built great innovative firms from scratch: Asseco, Alior Bank, CD Projekt RED, Getin Bank, Inglot, Fakro, Solaris Bus &Coach, VOX, HTL Strefa, AdamEd, Selvita, InPost, VIGO Systems and dozens more.

Poland today is not just a major BPO centre, but also the programming centre for hundreds if not thousands of firms and corporations from Silicon Valley and elswhere. The road ahead is to do business independently instead of making commissions on work for other people. Interesting up-and-coming firms include Inteliwise, Baltic Ceramics, Ivona Software, ShowRoom or Vivid Games. Moreover, the shale gas boom ahead will create a large tech service industry around the core business.

Poles rank third in the prestigious computer programming TopCoder world ranking. Entrepreneurship in ICT and ‘new tech’ represents the country’s greatest global key competitive strength, with leading international firms already invested in IT R&D here. Poland’s start-up eco-system is growing with VC funds like Innovation Nest, HardGamma, GPV, Warsaw Equity Holding, Satus, Intel Capital, SpeedUp Group and HCMG plus initiatives like Startup School and Huge Thing running start-up accelerators and actively investing.

The US-Poland Innovation Hub in Silicon Valley offers high-tech ventures a route into the US and global market via its incubator programme and strong network of Valley tech executives, investors and entrepreneurs.

A small but real start-up community is growing in Poland together with mentoring and networking events, co-working spaces, competitions and initiatives. The President of Poland in his recent letter to Silicon Valley entrepreneurs highlighted several aspects of Poland’s innovative and entrepreneurial potential.

Needs and barriers 

But Poland should not become complacent. Local entrepreneurs lack communication and cooperation skills, an ambitious global market sales orientation and have a relatively weak understanding of innovation.

Data from a 2012 survey study by the Polish Confederation of Private Employers Lewiatan (PKPP Lewiatan) pointed this out. It seems that our tech talent dominates our business skills and our large domestic market hinders our ‘go global’ business strategy. Israel, for instance, does not face this obstacle.

Poland’s R&D investment stood at just 0.9% of GDP in 2011, as firms invest little in R&D due to weak tax incentives and a focus on price competition. Embracing risk as individuals and inside larger companies, is essential to selling outside the EU or innovating on products and processes.

What is also interesting, is that Polish is quite a formal language full of courtesy and honorifics. This is relevant, as research shows how this formalises informal communications and cooperation – creating barriers to being straightforward, which is key to business and cooperation. Added to this is the fact that public universities with their cushion-comfort public financing, regulatory burden and rules protecting the professorial gerontocracy are a major obstacle to innovation. Lack of an innovative administration (not an oxymoron) is another handicap.

Think Estonia. Think Singapore. Think of the Nordics. Improving on trust and cooperation, the ‘go global’ attitude and a culture of innovation requires a change in our mindset plus deep structural reforms. Opening up to foreign cultures, project-oriented teamwork at school and gaining proficiency in English (as most Nordic countries have in all cases) is a good long-term tactic towards straightforward communications and better cooperation.

The 2012 World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report lists tax regulations, restrictive labour regulations, inefficient government bureaucracy, and tax rates as the most problematic factors for doing business in Poland. Over the 2007–2013 period €10bn of EU funds are devoted to innovation and entrepreneurship allocated through government agencies.

Meanwhile, Poland has fallen in the EU Innovation Union Scoreboard ranking from 23rd place (out of 27 EU countries) in 2008 to 24th in 2011. Similarly Poland has fallen in the WEF GCR Innovation pillar rank from 44th in 2006 to 63rd place in 2012 in the world. EU funds have distorted markets and most likely crowded out private capital. Data show that innovative products and processes have fallen as a proportion of company investments and revenues.

Experts have pointed out that subsidies have propped up thousands of weak firms, led to inflating costs, creative invoicing, and fiddling with simple metrics aimed to measure quantity instead of value added. For instance, most of the over three dozen tech parks built using EU money stand pretty much empty.

Easy money has eroded the healthy bootstrapping start-up drive of many young entrepreneurs. It would make sense if such funds were spent on attracting global investors via equity-matching VC/PE programs (like Singapore does), reforming universities (like Finland has), high-tech government procurement (like in the US), or creating ‘brain drain’ programmes (like Chile does). It is still an extremely hard task to design and implement smart industrial policy.

Former deputy PM Jerzy Hausner noted in a 2012 report (“Kurs na Innowacje”) how Poland’s great growth potential is hindered by the weakness of the state. Institutional barriers and a poor business environment are blocking growth. Institutional leadership is lacking where centralisation and bureaucratic management, via administrative silos, dominates policymaking.

Subsidies weaken innovation and destroy competition due to bureaucratic non-managerial control, risk-averse assurance, absurd reporting requirements, inferior project choice processes, and the dispersion of funds with no targets that would be evaluated using useful metrics.

Road ahead 

Poland has a vibrant and dynamic private sector, a backward public sector, and faces a ‘developmental drift’ scenario if nothing is changed fundamentally. Structural reforms that would create a free labour market, lean tax system, and remove red tape are essential. Legal institutional reforms are crucial to improving contract enforcement. Fundamental university reform can strengthen business-science collaboration and open up universities to innovation.

International collaboration with investors, corporations and universities in the US, China, Singapore, Israel and Switzerland is key to igniting entrepreneurial innovation, and they have to be attracted to cooperating with local players – VC funds, universities, research institutions and companies. This also requires privatising and opening up to competition as many sectors of the economy as possible: education, health care, rail transport, mining and energy.

What is also essential are tools that would enhance cooperation between millions of Poles and foreigners with Polish roots who live abroad in the UK, US, Canada, Ireland, Brazil, Israel, Argentina and practically all over the world. Millions of entrepreneurs, engineers, corporate executives, lawyers, doctors, scientists and students can be attracted to coming to Poland and – even more importantly – engaging their time, skills and capital in all sorts of ventures.

A targeted migration policy is key for Poland to face the coming demographic challenges ahead. Easing visa restrictions, enabling entrepreneurs with capital to re-locate their businesses and families here in exchange for residency, as well as creating ‘brain drain’ programmes with private sector partners aimed at attracting tech talent from across the world are all ways of strengthening local entrepreneurship and growth. Entrepreneurial drive is ingrained in Polish DNA.

For this reason alone Poland has the potential to be among the world’s most competitive nations, if only the necessary changes are implemented and Poles learn to communicate and cooperate more openly in today’s global business environment.

Robert Kowalski works at the Chancellery of the President of the Republic of Poland. He has experience working in Poland’s SME and start-up sectors. His previous jobs include stints at the Ministry of the Treasury and Bank Gospodarstwa Krajowego (BGK). Robert is a graduate of the London School of Economics and Stanford University. All views and opinions in this article represent the author’s own and not those of the people, institutions or organisations he is affiliated with.

This is a repost of an article that appeared on the Poland Today on May 25, 2013

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Startups That will Really Change Your Life... But Nobody Talks About

Lifescience Startups: the Brother that gets Too Little Media Coverage.
By: Paul Chen

In the year of our Lord, 2013 on 29th of October, Hurricane Sandy made land fall in my home area of New Jersey, USA. It caused $30 billion of damage as well as an amazing amount of damage to the Jersey Shore. It caused week long power outages in the tri-state area. I had just come back to Krakow from a visit to that exact area just a week earlier. Due to certain personal circumstances, seeing the damages that this storm had done to a place that for over two decades I had called home made me especially melancholic. It took days to be able to get a call through to my family, still living there, to make sure that they were okay.
Many environmental scientist will tell you that this storm would have been less severe if we weren't on the verge of a major climatic crisis. The conservatives will try to deny that such weather abnormalities are just a few hiccups and that things will be okay soon. These people have financial and political stakes in the status-quo. However, a majority of scientists and national leaders will agree that something significant is indeed happening. We need to change some of our habits to adapt to the ever changing weather and climates of this little blue dot over 7 billion people call home.
" there is a frequently recurring struggle for existence, it follows that any being, if it vary however slightly in any manner profitable to itself, under the complex and sometimes varying conditions of life, will have a better chance of surviving", Charles Darwin
In my previous posts, I have been covering tech startups. I do believe that these startups will do wonders for the local as well as the Polish national economy. And I also believe as with many local business leaders that we are at the threshold of something significant. However, what good are software services and mobile app's when you are literally having trouble keeping your head above water. Fortunately, here in Krakow there is a collective that is working on these as well as other pressing biotech problems.
KlasterLifescience Krakow is an effort whose mission is to "promote collaboration between science and business entities in order to deliver innovation and help regional development in turn, providing jobs, products, and services".

It is made up of a network of local biotech businesses, educational institutes (mainly Jagiellonian University), scientific research institutes, healthcare facilities and governmental organizations. One of the members is the Jagiellonian Center of Innovation.  JCI is a company which provides operational space and incubation services to scientific startups.
Part of it's function is to organize activities that promote awareness of its members as well as promote internal collaboration among its members. It also organizes conferences and events to promote collaboration between its members and external entities. One of the key events is the Lifescience Open Space which is organized annually in the autumn: dedicated to innovations in biotechnology, medicine, pharmacy, nutrition and other sectors of life sciences.
Another part of its activities is to provide mentoring to startups. It organizes educational conferences as well as put together educational material in development of a curriculum on entrepreneurship. Like Hive 53, it also organizes Lifescience meetings which can be found on the Facebook page.
Please watch this space as I post more information on Klaster Lifescience Krakow as well as other biotech startup material. If you have any questions or constructive comments, please write below. Please, no trolling. Thank you for reading!

Friday, August 23, 2013

A Model for Krakow to Emulate...

Silicon Valley’s Start-Up Machine


Michelle Crosby, an energetic 37-year-old lawyer in Boise, Idaho, applied for a loan last November from a local bank, Western Capital. She proposed to use the money, $10,000, to help start a new business, Wevorce, which could be described most reductively as an H&R Block for divorces. The bankers liked the idea, and Crosby was a strong candidate. They had even given her an earlier loan to open Wevorce’s first office. But after four weeks, the bank was stalling and Crosby had yet to receive a cent. At the height of her frustration, she received an e-mail from a small group of private investors in Mountain View, Calif. They invited her to an interview and, after listening to her story, promised her $100,000 in exchange for a 7 percent stake in Wevorce. Crosby accepted on the spot. The next day, she found a condo for rent, at $2,500 a month, in Mountain View, and left Boise, and her boyfriend, behind.

Haisha Chen is a 23-year-old Chinese-born University of Chicago graduate who goes by David so that Americans remember his name. With two friends, Teng Bao and Dafeng Guo, Chen created software that allows Internet users to build simple, elegant Web sites, designed with mobile devices in mind, in 15 minutes. They called their product Strikingly. Last July, to their parents’ alarm, the men bought one-way tickets to San Francisco — Chen from Shanghai, Guo from Hong Kong, Bao from Chicago. They rented a single bedroom in a cramped apartment in San Francisco’s Outer Richmond neighborhood, sleeping on two futons, one of which prevented the door from opening more than a few inches. They spent $1,600 a month on rent, food and all additional expenses combined. After four months, they got a call from Mountain View, offering $100,000 for a 7 percent stake. They moved immediately. “When I got here, I was very emotionally touched by all the great companies in this area,” Guo told me in an outburst of passion. “These were all the companies I had heard of since I was a kid. I felt like I should be here. Like I belong.”

Last year at Brown University, Walker Williams and Evan Stites-Clayton created Teespring, a crowdfunding Web site that sold custom-made apparel — “Kickstarter for T-shirts.” For six months they had mild success with fraternities and campus clubs but were only slightly profitable. Then something unexpected happened: a New Zealand man used Teespring to design a Sherlock Holmes T-shirt and sold it on a Facebook fan page with about 300,000 members; ultimately, 1,800 people bought the shirt. The man earned about $18,000; Teespring made $8,000. Soon other virtual communities — like the Twitter account for fans of the 1990s TV show “Boy Meets World,” and a Facebook page called “I Big Trucks, Mudding, Bon Fires . . . Country BOYS! :)” — began selling shirts, with staggering success. In November, Teespring earned $133,336; in January, $489,029. But the founders felt they could do better. “We don’t want this to be a $30-, $40-, $50 million business,” Williams told me. “We’re looking at the big picture here.” I asked Williams and Stites-Clayton to define “big picture.” They responded in unison: “A billion dollars.” When the investors called with their offer of $100,000, Williams and Stites-Clayton also moved to Mountain View.

The Mountain View investors are the partners of Y Combinator, an organization that can be likened to a sleep-away camp for start-up companies. Y.C. holds two three-month sessions every year. During that time, campers, or founders, have regular meetings with each of Y.C.’s counselors, or partners, at which they receive technical advice, emotional support and, most critical, lessons on the art of the sale. There is no campus, only a nondescript office building in Mountain View — on Pioneer Way, around the corner from Easy Street. Founders are advised to rent apartments nearby, so that they can run to the office in minutes should an important investor pay a visit.

Among the eight start-ups that graduated Y.C.’s first class, in the summer of 2005, were the social-news site Reddit, recently valued at $400 million; and Infogami, the Web-site builder created by the tech martyr Aaron Swartz, which merged with Reddit. Other Y.C. success stories include Dropbox (file-sharing service, $4 billion), Airbnb (online market for vacation rentals, $1.3 billion) and Stripe (Web-based credit-card-payment software, $500 million). In Y.C.’s first six years, 72 percent of its 249 start-ups raised money after Demo Day. Today the average value of a Y.C.-financed start-up is $22.4 million. For the most recent term, which ran from January through March, Y Combinator received 2,633 applications. Wevorce, Strikingly and Teespring were three of the 47 groups invited.

The director of this camp, as well as its founder and animating spirit, is Paul Graham, an infectiously giddy and hyperarticulate programmer, investing magnate and essayist who, depending on whom you ask, is the closest thing the technology community has to either a Bertrand Russell or a P. T. Barnum. Wearing a fleece jacket, khaki shorts and sandals, Graham spends much of his day offering advice and encouragement to the founders in whom he has invested. Every Tuesday night the entire class congregates in the basketball-court-size dining hall that serves as Y.C.’s main meeting space, where, over burritos or spaghetti Bolognese, they are lectured by guest speakers like Mark Zuckerberg, Marissa Mayer and Al Gore.

The Y.C. term culminates with Demo Day, or D Day. Before 450 of the world’s richest and most influential technology investors and about two dozen journalists, a representative from each start-up delivers a two-and-a-half-minute pitch. Afterward the investors meet with the most-impressive start-ups, which can receive millions in financing. In the weeks and months following Demo Day, those few who fail to attract enough interest must decide whether to begin a new company, find employment at Google or Facebook or persist and grow “organically” — an unsightly word in the valley of silicon.

Demo Day has become a biannual milestone, Silicon Valley’s version of the N.F.L. Scouting Combine, where investors size up the new talent. It also serves as the industry’s State of the Union, a chance to learn about the most-recent developments in technology and gauge the buoyancy of the market. Are prices increasing, or are there murmurings, sotto voce, of a “cooling off”? Although the word “bubble” is blasphemous in Santa Clara County, even Graham admits that valuations for start-ups became “frothy” (adj.: “full of bubbles”) a couple of years ago. Still, a gold-rush mentality reigns. According to the research institute Wealth-X, there is now a higher per-capita concentration of “ultrahigh-net-worth individuals” (assets worth at least $30 million) in the San Francisco Bay Area than anywhere in the country — more than that of the New York and Los Angeles metropolitan areas. An unspoken question on Demo Day is, How long can this possibly last? Y.C.’s job is to assure investors that it is here to stay.

Several years ago, Paul Graham — whom everybody calls P.G. — began to film the interviews he and his partners held with prospective Y.C. inductees. When reviewing the footage, he focused on the interviews with start-ups that ultimately failed. Like any savvy marketing executive, he wanted to isolate patterns that portended ill, which he called “negative predictors.” He was already aware of a few — investors tended to be biased against older founders, for instance. “The cutoff in investors’ heads is 32,” Graham says. “After 32, they start to be a little skeptical.” And Graham knew that he had his own biases. “I can be tricked by anyone who looks like Mark Zuckerberg. There was a guy once who we funded who was terrible. I said: ‘How could he be bad? He looks like Zuckerberg!’ ”

Watching the video footage, Graham noticed another correlation: the longer he took to decide a group’s fate, the less likely the group was to succeed. “When you have to talk yourself into something, it’s a bad sign — that’s true also of relationships, hiring and so many other parts of life.” (Graham has a rhetorical talent for moving swiftly from the valley to the universal.) But after ranking every Y.C. company by its valuation, Graham discovered a more significant correlation. “You have to go far down the list to find a C.E.O. with a strong foreign accent,” Graham told me. “Alarmingly far down — like 100th place.” I asked him to clarify. “You can sound like you’re from Russia,” he said, in the voice of an evil Soviet henchman. “It’s just fine, as long as everyone can understand you.”

This was bad news for Strikingly’s David Chen, who moved in 2005 from Guangzhou to the United States to attend high school at Houghton Academy, in upstate New York. He spoke English fluently but struggled to pronounce words like “build,” “mobile” and, most ominously, “strikingly.” Yet Chen had clearly established himself as the fledgling company’s impresario and spokesman. While his partners spent their days writing code and fixing software bugs, Chen met with lawyers, potential investors and reporters. In a Forbes magazine article, a college classmate wrote of Chen’s evolution since moving to the Bay Area: “He used to tell me, ‘I want to build a product that helps social entrepreneurs and changes the world.’ Now he tells me, ‘I want to be the next Airbnb or Dropbox.’ ”

One week before Demo Day, Graham told the Strikingly founders that Chen’s accent was too strong. The quiet, reserved Bao — who spoke less frequently than either of his partners despite being the group’s only native English speaker — would have to deliver the pitch instead. Bao denied that he was anxious, but as he tried to memorize the pitch, he grew even quieter than usual. “I haven’t gotten to the point where I’m comfortable with public speaking,” he admitted. There was only one day before Rehearsal Day, when every start-up would deliver its pitch in front of the entire Y.C. class. One Y.C. partner thought it odd that in Strikingly’s final pitch meeting, Chen still did all the talking while Bao sat mutely off to one side.

Michelle Crosby, meanwhile, pacing around the rental condo that served as Wevorce’s office, hadn’t even begun to practice for Demo Day. But she had been perfecting her pitch for years. When she was 3 years old, her parents had, as she put it, “one of those ‘War of the Roses’ divorces.” At 9, she was called to the witness stand, where a lawyer asked her, “If you had to be stranded on a desert island with one parent, which one would you choose?” She couldn’t answer the question. “I knew then that the system was broken,” she told me. Her story, far more emotionally wrought than those of her Y.C. competitors, has become one of Wevorce’s most valuable assets. Unmentioned in the pitch is the fact that Crosby herself, after a 12-year marriage, divorced — amicably, she says. One source of tension in her relationship, she said, was her determination to start Wevorce.

On the cusp of becoming a partner at her corporate law firm, Crosby had what she calls “a quarter-life breakdown” and quit. She attended Harvard’s mediation training program and developed a six-step process designed to yield an amicable divorce. Using a software program with a video-game-like interface, the couple, with the help of a Wevorce mediator, creates an exhaustive divorce contract, its stipulations extending to such subjects as a child’s diet and curfew. Crosby puts the average divorce at around $27,000 in legal fees; Wevorce charges a flat rate of $7,500. She imagines a Wevorce office for every 400,000 Americans and estimates $1 billion in annual revenue. “We want,” she said, reaching for one of the valley’s most ubiquitous buzzwords, “to disrupt divorce.”

Crosby’s business partner is Jeff Reynolds, 38, a kind, jittery software designer. He had found it difficult to explain to his wife, a dental hygienist in Boise, and their two children, 9 and 12, why he moved to California for at least three months to start a divorce company. Crosby can sympathize — her current boyfriend of a year, a homebuilder in Boise, has grown frustrated by her absences. “It’s one of the gifts of Y.C. that you get three months of ‘Sorry, don’t bother me, I’m building something,’ ” Crosby said. “But you can’t sustain this. Everything else would start to crumble.”

When Crosby and Reynolds joined Y Combinator, Wevorce had a single office in Boise. Graham told Crosby that investors would be impressed if they were to expand quickly to other cities. In the next two months, they opened offices in four states. Each required a lawyer, a counselor and a financial professional, and they had to be trained. In the previous weeks, Crosby flew between Seattle, Portland, Boise, San Francisco and Asheville, N.C. The term of art for this is “nefarious business” — creating the appearance of success in order to attract actual success. Fake it till you make it. But Wevorce’s success rate wasn’t fake: only one out of 110 Wevorces has gone to court.

Back at Y.C., Teespring’s Walker Williams was rehearsing his pitch with Sam Altman, who founded Loopt as a Stanford sophomore and sold the company, which makes location-tracking applications, last year for $43.4 million. Altman is, at 28, Y.C.’s second youngest partner. Because of this, Altman is, after Graham, the most highly esteemed by the entrepreneurs. He is skinny, short and pallid, and he speaks rapidly, with the assuredness — if not quite the cockiness — of a Ph.D. student forced to teach a section of Intro to Comp Sci. Williams, on the other hand, despite being four years younger, looks like the kind of jock who might have tormented a kid like Altman in grade school; he has the broad shoulders, fair hair and rugged boyishness of a rugby player, which he was at Brown. But Williams has always idolized Altman. They happened to have lived as children on the same block in the Hillcrest neighborhood of St. Louis.

Williams and Altman were conducting a “walking meeting,” pacing slowly around Y.C.’s cul-de-sac. They passed three Teslas, one that belonged to Altman and two that belonged to other Y.C. partners. It had just rained, and the pavement was slick.

“Investors,” Williams said, “always think our ideas are crazy. So I’m going to lead with the numbers. When we were interviewing with Y Combinator, we were coming off our best month: $185,000 in top-line revenue. This month, we’re on track to do $750,000.”

“You’re going to do a million dollars next month, right?” Every sentence Altman speaks sounds urgent.


“Say that. It’s more impressive. What’s next?”

“We’ll say: Why are we so successful? Because we turn affinity into money.”

“I would add that, traditionally, if you had a consumer Internet site or a community, the only way to make money was by selling display ads. But ads suck. Users hate them, and they don’t make much money. What if there was a better way? Then say what you do.”

Walker nodded. He acknowledged that he was anxious about speaking in front of the crowd of investors on Demo Day. Perhaps his partner would do a better job. Stites-Clayton, the Oakland native, was never nervous.

“Both prepare,” Altman said. “But if, that morning, you get overcome by anxiety and can’t go on, then Evan can do it. I’ve seen this happen before. But I think you’ll be fine.”

Walker shrugged. He was hunched over, as if trying to shrink himself to Altman’s height.

“A little-known piece of trivia,” Altman announced. “This smell, after it rains for the first time. You know what’s that called?”

“Is this going to freak me out?” Williams said.

“Petrichor,” Altman said. “It’s my favorite smell. You only get to smell this once or twice a year, because it has to not rain for a while, and then rain. It’s the smell of summers in St. Louis.”

“Petrichor?” Williams said, uncertainly.

“Petrichor,” Altman said.

On Rehearsal Day, each start-up presented its idea before the entire Y.C. class while pretending not to sneak looks at Paul Graham. Standing off to one side, Graham scribbled notes on a pad but often communicated his reaction through exaggerated pantomimes — exasperated sighs, rubbing his temples as if suffering from a migraine and smacking his forehead. When he couldn’t take it anymore, he screamed:

“This sounds like a bunch of numbers. Tell us what you do!”

“Don’t just stand there holding your device, grinning.”

“You’re using that intonation people use when reciting a memorized speech. That tone tells the audience not to pay attention.”

“You’re talking too fast. You’re turning five syllables into one. And in a foreign accent!”

After one pitch, in which a group promised future revenues of $360 million, one Y.C. partner, Paul Buchheit, said, “$360 million makes me lose interest.”

“It should have a ‘B’ in front of it,” said another Y.C. partner, Geoff Ralston.

Michelle Crosby’s Wevorce presentation, while unpolished, was a hit. “Divorce,” she said, “is a $50 billion space.”

“I got a little teary,” said Jessica Livingston, a Y.C. partner and founder who is married to Graham, after Crosby finished.

“It’d be good to put the cost savings on one of your slides,” Buchheit said. “Because whatever, kids, you know — ” he made a flicking gesture. “But money. . . .”

Everyone laughed.

During his pitch, Walker Williams appeared relaxed and forceful. “Teespring turns affinity into money,” he said. “And we do it through beautiful, high-quality T-shirts.”

“That was pretty good,” Graham said. “You could give the exact same presentation on Demo Day and still be one of the better ones. You’ve got an unfair advantage there with those numbers.” Teespring had another advantage: almost every single founder in the room was wearing a T-shirt, or hooded sweatshirt, embroidered with the name of his start-up. All of the apparel had been made using Teespring. Williams and Stites-Clayton made about $10,000 off their fellow Y.C. classmates alone.

There was a break for lunch before Strikingly’s presentation. Chen encouraged Bao, who was sitting catatonically in his seat. Chen asked if he wanted lunch. Bao didn’t reply. He began mouthing the words of the pitch to himself. When, after the break, Bao took the stage, Chen sat in the front row with his head bowed, his hands clasped behind his head. It was as if he couldn’t watch.

“We are Strikingly,” Bao began. “We are the fastest-growing mobile Web-site builder.”

Graham was already beside himself.

“Slower!” he interrupted. Someone laughed anxiously. “Talk slower!”

“Start again!” Livingston said. More nervous laughter. Chen’s head went deeper into his lap.

“Why do our users like Strikingly so much?” Bao said.

“Oh, my God,” Graham interrupted, in disgust. “That was like one syllable! Slow, slow, slow!”

By the time Bao finished, Graham was groaning audibly. Demo Day was only six days away.

The number most frequently cited in the pitches did begin with a “B.” This might be because the most famous start-up success of the last year is Instagram, which Facebook bought for a cool billion. The sale caused great befuddlement, at least outside Santa Clara County, because Instagram had no revenue. It was not merely unprofitable — it had no way of making money whatsoever. But Instagram wasn’t alone. Some of the more prominent deals for “zero revenue” start-up companies in recent years have included TweetDeck (Twitter took the bait for $40 million); GroupMe (purchased by Skype for $85 million); and Siri (Apple, $200 million). Instagram, by some measures, is already looking like a bargain. In February, investors valued the revenue-free Pinterest at $2.5 billion.

It is a modern-day riddle of the Sphinx: How can a company that earns no money be worth a billion dollars? How you answer that question will determine whether you believe that what is now occurring in the office parks and strip-mall coffee shops of the San Francisco Peninsula is the last gasp of another speculative financial bubble or the early articulations of a new world order. It is tempting, given recent history, to make ominous comparisons to the last days of the gold rush or the dot-com bubble in 2000. But it was also tempting, in 1999, to view Google as merely the next AltaVista, or in 2005 to view Facebook as merely the next MySpace. Mark Zuckerberg was ridiculed more for turning down Yahoo’s $1 billion offer for Facebook in 2006 than for buying Instagram at the same price.

“This is the most counterintuitive aspect of the business,” said Paul Buchheit, or P.B., a baby-faced former programmer whose retiring, junior professorial manner makes an appealing juxtaposition with the fingernails of his left hand, each of which is painted a different color of glitter. Though Buchheit’s name may be unfamiliar, it is very likely that his inventions occupy much of your waking life. The 23rd employee of Google, he developed the prototype for AdSense, which earned Google about one-quarter of its annual revenue; he coined the company’s credo, “Don’t Be Evil”; and he was instrumental in creating Gmail. After leaving Google, he helped found FriendFeed, another company with zero revenue, which was sold to Facebook for $47.5 million.

“The general public doesn’t understand start-ups at all,” Buchheit said. “They’re mystified how a company with no revenue can be worth a billion dollars. It’s because of this power law: If a company has a 1 percent chance of being a hundred-billion-dollar company, then it’s worth about a billion dollars. That kind of thing doesn’t happen in your normal life experience. If I get a cup of tea, it’s a cup of tea — there isn’t a chance that it’s actually made out of solid gold. But that’s how this works.”

We were sitting in the Y.C.’s cafeteria. Founders were scattered around the tables, working on their Demo Day pitches. “One of the companies in the room will be worth more than all of the others put together,” he said. “Ninety percent will ultimately fail. That makes for a very interesting game of trying to figure out who that one company is.”

Graham has a different analogy: “Imagine an assembly line where Facebooks and Googles come along every few years. You can either pick that cookie off the assembly line or not. If you pick it off, it’s market price, which varies. But if you don’t pick it off, you’re out of the game.”

There is a lot of talk in Silicon Valley about the “game” and who is “winning.” Whatever the game is, Graham has been winning in a rout. I asked him whether he thought prices had become inflated. He freely acknowledged that they were — perhaps by double or, as he puts it, “two X.”

“One of the reasons,” he said, “is because there’s nothing else to invest in. If you have money, there’s nothing to put it in. Bonds return nothing. And the stock market — what public company do you feel reasonably assured is going to go up at historical norms of 8 percent a year? It could all just fall apart. . . .” If, on the other hand, you discover the next Google, you can increase your investment by “a thousand X.”

But what if there isn’t another Google?

“If there’s not going to be another Google,” Graham said, “then we’re so deeply screwed that we all should be getting bags of silver and shotguns.”

It is safe to say that everybody in Silicon Valley believes there will be another Google. If anything, the consensus is that there will be many more Googles, and soon.

“We’re in the early days of the Internet,” Buchheit said. “Every other industry will be eaten by tech.” This conviction, more than any other, explains the feeding frenzy that occurs on Y.C.’s Demo Day. If there’s going to be another Sergey Brin and Larry Page, and anyone can be Sergey and Larry, then it’s only logical for investors to bet on as many founders as possible. You can’t win the game unless you ante up.

This also explains Y.C.’s role in the game. To earn a large valuation, a Y.C. start-up doesn’t have to be the next Google. It must only persuade buyers that it could be the next Google. It is crucial therefore that Y.C. founders be charming salesmen, with persuasive sales pitches.

At 10 o’clock on the morning of Demo Day, there was a traffic jam in Mountain View. Priuses, Teslas and Fiskers queued on North Shoreline Boulevard, on the way to the Computer History Museum. Inside, an hour before the presentations began, obsession was in the air; also insomnia, caffeine and paranoia. The prominent venture-capital firms were represented in force — Sequoia Capital, Bessemer Venture Partners and Andreessen Horowitz — as were the Hollywood investors, which included Ari Emanuel and his associates from W.M.E.; a trio of superciliously grinning representatives from C.A.A.; and Guy Oseary, Madonna’s manager and Ashton Kutcher’s partner at A-Grade Investments. The man who attracted the most attention of all was Ron Conway, a founder of S.V. Angel and an early investor in Google, PayPal, Facebook and Twitter. Conway is a regal personage with a sweep of thick white hair and a stately manner. He greeted well-wishers and acolytes with a wry, avuncular smile, distributing his business card as a priest might hand out alms. Less-prominent investors cautiously approached founders, asking questions designed to obscure interest and commitment. One approached Evan Stites-Clayton and squinted at his nametag.

“We’re Teespring,” Stites-Clayton said. “It’s like Kickstarter for T-shirts.”

The investor winced. “I just want simple,” he said apologetically, beginning to inch away.

“We made $750,000 this month.”

The investor stopped and chatted for a while. “We have to do something,” he said finally.

David Chen darted around the room, introducing himself, indiscriminately, to as many investors as possible. He seemed re-energized — after Bao’s disaster on Rehearsal Day, Graham encouraged Chen to present after all. They had simplified Chen’s script, avoiding difficult words. “Create,” for instance, was swapped for “build”; “options” for “tools.” “If they don’t understand, there’s a problem,” Chen said. “But I’m very confident. Very, very confident.” Bao, for his part, appeared enormously relieved.

The doors to the auditorium opened, and the founders, the 450 investors and the press filed past the museum’s wall of fame, with its framed portraits of Steve Wozniak, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. After a brief introduction from Graham, the lights dimmed. Michelle Crosby was waiting in the wings with Jeff Reynolds. She wore jeans and a jean jacket, brown leather boots and matching belt, and her blouse was bright green — Wevorce green. She had goose bumps. Reynolds touched her arm.

“You’re better when you smile,” he said.

Crosby took the stage and told her desert-island story.

“I guarantee someone you know will need a Wevorce,” she said, before walking off to applause.

The 46 presentations that followed were dominated by the language of Silicon Valley, a hybrid of tech slang and insipid sales patter. Common terms included “disruption,” “scale” (verb), “game changer,” “thought leaders,” “ecosystem,” “pivot” and “verticals.” “We’ve 10 X’ed,” one founder said, using a Grahamism to describe his company’s growth. Most of the founders wore T-shirts and sneakers — Asics mostly, never Nike — and spoke in a manner that might best be described as Zuckerbergian: pauses imposed after every four words, delivered in an insistent, cheerful tone, with a painted-on smile.

A formula emerged. Most pitches began with a slide that showed a steeply rising graph, representing the company’s growth (“40 percent month over month!”). Then came the inevitable “Why have we been so successful?” An answer followed: “Our product is simple, and it’s solving a fundamental problem.” Hearty outrage at the status quo was expressed. The size of the market was estimated (“the rental-car market is an $11 billion industry,” “the authentic-designer retail market is $30 billion,” “the fashion-magazine market is a $2 billion industry, and it’s dying”), and the founder promised that his company would soon take it over. The pitch concluded with a summation of three main bullet points and an invitation for investors to “come see us.”

Not every investor was sold. During the first break, one told me that Demo Day “used to be a can’t-miss event, but that’s not so anymore. It’s a different vibe. Some major investors are starting to skip it.”

“It used to be a feeding frenzy, but not anymore,” another said. “It was more pumped up last year.”

“It’s more standoffish now,” said a third.

All of the naysayers insisted that they not be named, out of fear that Graham wouldn’t invite them back next year.

Another common complaint was that the entrepreneurs have become too powerful. Investment terms, it is true, have become increasingly favorable to start-ups. Y.C. has contributed to this trend by creating a standard investment contract, preventing investors from taking advantage of na├»ve founders. But this criticism hardly bothers Graham. If Y.C.’s founders are doing well, that means he is doing well.

“There are two things that people grumble about Y Combinator that are actually compliments,” he told me. “One is that Y.C. start-ups are overvalued. The only way for a company to be overvalued is if there’s someone willing to pay that price. So what they’re saying is: Going through Y.C. causes companies to raise money on better terms than they would have otherwise. We wouldn’t have the barefacedness to make that claim ourselves!

“The other thing they say is that they can’t tell on Demo Day which are the good start-ups. Well, it’s not because the good start-ups look bad; it’s because the bad start-ups look good! Which means we’re doing our job.”

Teespring was up. Before Walker Williams took the stage, he rolled his shoulders and jumped in place like a boxer. His delivery seemed effortless, spontaneous. The audience applauded vigorously. When he walked off the stage, Stites-Clayton gave him a thumb’s up.

Then it was David Chen’s turn. He stuttered at one point, and pronounced “Strikingly” in such a way that the “ly” was inaudible, but he spoke forcefully, with charm and enthusiasm. Polite applause followed. In the greenroom, once the door closed, he and Bao high-fived.

Over the following weeks, the Y.C. start-ups met with dozens of investors. They had been told by Graham and Altman that they never would have more interest than in the days following Demo Day. It was Graham’s insight that scheduling all the presentations for a short period of time would create a sense of urgency, driving up interest and prices.

In less than two weeks, Teespring raised $1.3 million. Their largest investor was Sam Altman, at $500,000; Paul Buchheit contributed as well. Williams and Stites-Clayton might have raised more, but because Teespring’s profits were already so large, they didn’t want to dilute their ownership unnecessarily. They expected to surpass $1 million in monthly revenue in April.

Wevorce has raised $1.5 million so far. Crosby has hired a chief operating officer and a chief legal officer and will hire additional staff and rent office space on the peninsula. Reynolds is moving his befuddled family to California, but Crosby’s boyfriend won’t leave Boise. “There’s a tidal wave of change coming quickly at me,” she said. “As you go on a journey like this, you have to tell yourself little lies to make it through. But at some point the adrenaline stops, and you have to re-evaluate things.”

Strikingly raised $1.4 million from 16 investors, among them Ron Conway. They, too, were in the position of turning down more money. They celebrated at an all-you-can-eat sushi bar in Mountain View. “I’m more excited than ever about our business,” Chen said. “I feel a relief that strengthens my excitement.”

I wondered whether the ease at which all three companies raised millions of dollars might be considered a sign of excess — that the market was getting too high, an Icarus racing for the sun. When presented with 47 consecutive audacious pitches, some investors seemed to have shown signs of fatigue, even cynicism. But then I remembered the last thing that Graham told me on Demo Day, as the crowd was filing out of the Computer History Museum. It helped me to understand the nature of Graham’s enthusiasm. From 1993 to 2004, Graham suffered a crippling fear of flying. The anxiety had arisen suddenly one day, with no good reason. “I said to myself: Wait a minute, I don’t like this! I’m five miles high in the sky, and nothing is holding me up, I can’t control it, and all I can do is look out of this one little window.”

Finally he hit upon a miracle cure: he would learn how to fly. He began with hang-gliding lessons. It was a gradual process. First he ran along flat ground with a hang glider strapped to his back. If there was any head wind, he would feel a sensation of lift but not enough to levitate. Next he walked 10 feet up a hill and ran down it, clearing the ground by several inches. He increased the height until, before he knew it, he was jumping off a 450-foot cliff. “By that point, you’re not even worried anymore,” he said. “My reputation as a hang-gliding pilot was at stake. I was trying not to mess up.”

Next he enrolled in flight training. In one lesson, his instructor switched off his Cessna’s engine, and he had to guide it onto the runway. This was easy for him, because the glide ratio of a Cessna 152 is almost exactly the same as a hang glider.

After 30 hours of classes, Graham decided that it was time for the real thing. He booked a ticket on the shuttle from Boston, where he was living, to New York. Not only was he fine — he found it exhilarating. Never again did he fear a crash. “Compared to a Cessna,” Graham said, “that plane was like a spaceship. It took off like a rocket, went up to this immensely high altitude, and there was zero turbulence. It was like flying for the first time all over again — like starting over with a new brain. It felt fabulous. And I thought, Wow!”

Nathaniel Rich last wrote for the magazine about an Amtrak trip from New Orleans to Los Angeles. His new novel is ‘‘Odds Against Tomorrow.’’
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: May 19, 2013

An article on May 5 about Y Combinator, a Silicon Valley organization that helps technology start-up companies, erroneously included a peak value for Loopt, a company that produces location-tracking apps. Its peak value is not known; but it was not $500 million, an unconfirmed figure reported on several tech Web sites. (As the article noted, the company was sold for $43.4 million in March 2012.) The article also referred incorrectly to Sam Altman, who founded Loopt. He is Y Combinator’’s second-youngest partner, not the youngest.

This is a repost of an article that appeared on the New York Times on May 2, 2013