What do Dropbox, Scribd, Disqus, Reddit and AirBnB–digital services and platforms which you have likely heard about or already used–all have in common? The answer is that they have all worked with Y Combinator, a massively successful seed accelerator company that boasts an impressive roster of projects it has helped get off the ground and become established players or even pioneers in their respective fields.
The Launch Pad: Inside Y Combinator, Silicon Valley’s Most Exclusive School for Startups by Randall Stross is a must-read for the budding entrepreneur looking to give their idea traction, and eventually, wings. Stross gives readers a look behind the curtains of Y Combinator, widely known in the technology world as ‘the most prestigious program for budding entrepreneurs’. As a seed accelerator, Y Combinator provides a small amount of funding (US$14,000-20,000) and works closely with technology startups over a three-month period with a goal of making their ideas ready to present to a large group of big time investors at the end of that period, on ‘demo day.’ The audience before hundreds of big time investors is the third big perk that Y Combinator offers. In turn, the company will own an average of 6% of the companies that accept funding from them.
Here is why The Launch Pad is worth your time: There are countless how-to books that give readers instruction. But this book is different. It is better. Author Randall Stross gives you an experience of what it actually feels like to be a startup business under the microscope, with some of the world’s most bankable mentors critiquing, challenging, polishing your idea. You get to learn from the successes and mistakes of other startups who have paved the way. Businesses like Plurky, for example, which automates legal procedures online, aiming to ‘make lawyers obsolete’. You get to meet the charismatic guys behind the only crowd-sourced lyrics site on the Internet that doesn’t suck, also known as Rap Genius. Or learn about Parse, a back end system for mobile app developers, a startup that, in today’s world that is gaga over the latest mobile app, sells the proverbial shovel in a gold rush. These startups, and many more, have had the privilege of working with Y Combinator in the hopes of getting funding that will help them take their ideas to the world.
Stross does a good job at making the experience of working on a big idea feel close to home. Relate with two thirty-something startup founders and learn about the rigors of trying to fulfill their business dream while having families to support. Learn about the challenges that female founders have faced in the midst of a field dominated by males. Find out how being a skilled hacker gives you an edge over the competition. Or, if you aren’t a technical person, find out how you fit into the complicated puzzle that is the next big idea.
Most notable of all the personalities we meet in the book is the founder of Y Combinator, a man named Paul Graham. As Stross follows Graham around, and transcribes words of advice he gives to startup founders, you get a clear look into what the building blocks for success really are. These aren’t mere theories tossed into the air. This is first-hand wisdom from a man who has succeeded time and again in helping fresh, young talent achieve their goals of success in the digital field, regardless of age, race, gender or educational attainment.
If you’ve ever wanted to be a fly on the wall listening in on billionaires’ day-to-day workings, in the hopes of gleaning valuable knowledge that will get your idea to take off, The Launch Pad by Randall Stross is the next book you should be reading.