Future Founders Track Conclusion
by Geoff Ralston

YC President Geoff Ralston shares his parting message with the participants of the future founder track of Startup School.


Hello, everyone. It's Geoff again and I want to start by congratulating you on completing the Future Founders program. We sincerely hope this provides the boost many of you need to start your startups.

You all have covered the basics but I wanted to delve just a bit deeper here and give you a few bits of parting advice. For those of you that do start companies, the full Startup School curriculum will always be available at startupschool.org. With Startup School, you get special deals with various folks' group sessions and tools to track updates, to stay in touch with the community, and, of course, lots more content. Some of you may choose to apply to YC's core program. We hope many of you will apply to YC's core program now or in the future. And this includes funding our batch program, direct advice from YC group partners, andaccess to the best, most successful startup network in the world. Remember, we run twice a year, in the summer, from June to August, and in the winter, from January until March. Both programs culminate in an epic Demo Day, where you can pitch your company to thousands of investors from everywhere around the world. If you are interested in our core program, you can find our application at ycombinator.com/apply. And, of course, it's free to apply.

Now, I did want to say a couple of words about starting a startup in the midst of a global pandemic. It does seem like everything is more difficult this year and it's a fair question to ask. "Is this the right time?" Well, each of you know your own personal situation and, obviously, I cannot speak to that. But it's also true that times like today are times of massive dislocation and disruption. Times like this, as painful as they can be, and we should certainly not ignore or forget the suffering this represents. Well, these times also always represent massive opportunities. In fact, two of YC's most valuable companies as of today, Airbnb and Stripe, were both funded in 2009, in the very beginning of the Great Recession and just after a massive financial crisis. So times are tough but opportunities exist for those who choose to go after them. And just a parting word on this, I always like to quote my friend Nitesh from YC company Padlet who said, "In uncertain times, it's best to focus on things you know for sure to be true and double down on them. So I am just focused on making the product perfect right now."

But it's also true that investors are so far hanging in there and there's definitely capital available. I think that's because many investors understand what I just told you, what I just noted, and are looking for epic companies of the future. It's also true that how markets will behave in the near future is likely to be volatile, complicated. And cash will be king for a long time. If you do choose to start a company now, do everything you can to stay solvent, to stay alive through whatever economic changes are about to arrive. And there will certainly, surely be changes.

So before concluding, I'd like to just give a bit more concrete advice which I think is always relevant to new startups. Probably, a lot of this you've heard as you've been taking the class. Always build rapidly and decide what to build based on what users tell you. Remember, the goal is to build something people want, really want, something they actually need. All success will be derived from this simple idea. Also, launch equally rapidly and get your product in the hands of real customers so you can get that feedback that you desperately need to figure out what product to build. Who you build your company with will determine your success as much as anything else you ever do. Find the right people but don't rush into it. Find animals, I mean that in the most positive way you can imagine. Do you want people who will make things happen, get things done, with whom also you'll be able to spend...stand spending enormous amounts of time? Early on, do things that don't scale. Read PG's essay on the topic. Actually, so many of his essays are still completely relevant and are really must-reads for any new founder. Don't try to build things that will make you efficient until you are sure you really need them. Don't try growing too early. First, make sure you have product-market fit. Although it is complicated to know when you have product-market fit, but when you really have it, you'll know. Usually, the best indication is that you are growing and you have great retention. Ooshma Garg, one of my favorite YC founders said memorably, "Product-market fit lives at the intersection of growth and retention." Valuation is not equal to success. If you are trying to raise money, keep that in mind. And when you raise, get what you can and then get back to work.

So a last couple of points, get sleep and exercise while you're doing your startups. There is no real success without keeping your sanity. And lastly, try to stay nice while you're doing all these things. Life will just end up being better that way and likely, so will your startup.

For those of you who saw my introduction, recall that I pointed out how difficult it is to start a startup. It's definitely not for everyone. But for all of you and especially those of you that are future founders, I really hope to meet you at a YC batch sometime soon.

Good luck, everyone.