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startup but was thinking about it
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Gruner: I went to an executive conference several years ago in New York. One
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of the most interesting sessions had about six chief executives, all of whom were very successful, and the moderator asked, If you could describe in one word the key to success for your company, what would that word be Very few answered in one word. Some of them said integrity, or communications, and things like that. The last person to talk was Michael Dell, and he said one simple word: persistence.
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I can relate to that. Things never work out right the first time. You ve always got to do it two or three times to get it right. And things always go wrong. So persistence is the key to success. I had seen that in my career. I had seen that in computer design projects. I had seen that through my whole life. And so that word is the best single advice I can give to entrepreneurs. The key to success, if you had to sum it up in one word, is persistence.
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The Alliant management team in 1985: (from left to right) Rich McAndrew, Craig Mundie, Ronald Gruner, John Clary, and David Micciche
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Jessica Livingston
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Cofounder, Y Combinator
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Jessica Livingston founded Y Combinator in 2005 with Paul Graham, Robert Morris, and Trevor Blackwell. Y Combinator developed a new approach to venture funding: to fund startups in batches, giving them just enough money to get started, working closely with them to refine their ideas, and then introducing them to later stage investors for further funding. In three years they have funded more than 100 startups. When did you start Y Combinator
Livingston: We started Y Combinator in March 2005. Around that same time, I
had gotten a book deal for Founders at Work, so I had planned to quit my job doing marketing at an investment bank and work full-time for a little while on the book. But we started Y Combinator simultaneously, so I didn t really get to spend much time on the book. What was the process when Y Combinator got started
Livingston: That would assume that we had a process. There was no process. Remember, Y Combinator started off as an experiment. Paul had wanted to do angel investing. He wanted to help people start companies. But he didn t really want all the requirements that come with being an angel investor, so he thought he should start an organization that could handle all of this for him. I said, That sounds interesting. I d love to work with entrepreneurs. So we sort of hatched this idea for Y Combinator, and I was the one in charge of doing a lot of the business stuff. We decided to do a batch of investments at once, so that we could learn how to be investors. We decided, OK, we ll invest in a group of startups, and we ll do it over the summer since a lot of people are free over the summertime.
How did the summer turn out
Livingston: A lot better than we d have ever thought. Not that I went into things with a whole lot of expectations. The idea with Y Combinator was that we
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were going to invest small amounts of money in startups and help them get set up legally, just like Viaweb had been helped out by Paul s friend Julian. Get them set up, work closely with them on their products, and then introduce them to investors to hopefully get more funding. I remember when we first got started, we thought, How do we even tell people about this So Paul built a website I think he stayed up all night building it. We had a couple pages online that loosely described what we were planning to do we didn t really fully know what we were planning to do and we had an application, with about 20 questions on it, and then Paul launched it on paulgraham.com, which had a lot of traffic because of his essays. We started getting some applications in. I was still working at the time, and I remember Paul saying, We have some good applications, you better quit your job. What was the point when you quit
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