By Paul Chen
So Y Combinator has organized an one semester course in StanfordUniversity called „How to Start a Startup” (CS183B). It started last week and will continue until the beginning of December. It has been met with much praise from the global startup community. Startup communities all over the world are orgainzing viewings including here in Krakow. However, in order to add value to the viewings, it is essential to have these elements in place.
- A studious viewing room
It cannot be too comfortable. Couches are discouraged. Remember, it is an educational occasion. The viewing should be taken seriously. A classroom or a open space at a coworking space is optimal.
- A proactive host
This could make or break the viewing. The job of the host is not only to organize the space, but to make sure the event is successful and that the attendees took something away from it. It might sound counterintuitive, but it might not be a good idea to show the lectures as soon as it becomes available online. The host should take some time to view the lectures once or twice to come up with discussion topics, and a list of questions on each topics for the attendees to talk about. Remember, because it is online, people can just watch it at home in their pajamas. If you want them to put on pants and leave the house, you need to add value to the experience. The discussion adds plenty of value. The host should have a strong and commanding personality to be able to control the flow of the event.
- Startup founders
It would be valuable to the discussion to have startup founders from your community to share their experiences and add comments to what the lecturers have said. They can share valuable insights about product and business development, hiring, execution, and fund raising.
- If available, Y Combinator alums
Here in Krakow, we are lucky to have two YC alums in Estimote and Applicake. With over 700 funded companies, chances are your community might have a YC alum too. It would be invaluable to invite members of their senior staff, and if you are lucky, a founder to give you a behind the scenes insight. They went through it, here is your chance to live vicariously through them, even if it is retroactive.
- Local VC and/or angel investors
As a startup, you will be knocking at a VC or angel investors' doors at some time. It is nice to get their opinions about that the guest lecturers have said. The viewing provides them with a point of reference to share their experience and a window into how they make decisions.
- Don't watch it all the way through in one shot
Unless you are lucky enough to be sitting in the classroom when Sam Altman or Paul Graham is lecturing, you have the option to pause the video, use it! As a good host, if you did what was recommended in #2, you would know when is a good time to stop the video and have a discussion. Discussions are a valuable tool to make important points stick in people's minds. And it adds perspective. This is when the VIP guest have an opportunity to share their insights and experience. From what we saw from the first two lectures, they are chock full of knowledge. There are too many bits of valuable knowledge to watch it in one shot. You will be overwhelmed. However, by pausing and discussing, it gives the audiences' brains a chance to digest the message.
- Mini group discussions
Rather than have a whole group discussion if the group is lager than 5, if say your viewing group is larger than 10, break the big group into mini groups of 2 or 3. Then more people will have a chance to talk in depth about the topic when the videos are paused and after the VIP shares his insights.
- Food, tea and coffee
Since this is a cerebral exercise, your brain needs energy. Refreshments are important to break the ice. If you can get sponsorship for pizza or beer, that would be great. If not, chips, popcorn, soda, juice, coffee, and tea should suffice.
- Networking time
As with any good startup event, a chance to network after the lectures is important for attendees to make meaningful business connections.
I believe with these in place, a startup community can benefit greatly from their viewing sessions of this great opportunity to hear from the giants in the global startup community.
I can see that there is a marked difference between the first and the second lectures. Sam Altman took time to answer questions. My personal feeling is that Y Combinator should remember that they are doing an university course now. It is not like a conference keynote, where it is a monologue. In most good university courses, there is a dialogue between the students and the one on the stage. Modern education methods are those that the teacher would draw the knowledge from the students using discussion rather than just showing how great and smart they are. I understand it could be an one-off thing, but still if it is an educational exercise, good modern education methodology should be implemented. I can imagine that if it is a success, it could become a normal part of Stanford's course offerings.