Startup School 2014: Building a Company on a Specific “Why”

Austin Green, BBA ’16 Traveled to Y Combinator’s Startup School and Shares Lessons Learned from Investors and Founders

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to represent the Ross entrepreneurship community at Y Combinator’s Startup School — a one-day conference and networking event hosted in Cupertino, CA by the most prestigious seed accelerator in the nation. The conference included talks given by prominent technology founders and investors whose advice was extremely motivating and useful for those considering a startup.

During the networking hours I spent my time sharing ideas with entrepreneurs from all over the globe and promoting Ann Arbor’s great technology community. I learned a lot, and a couple of key takeaways from the event were to build a company upon a specific “why” and stay ruthlessly focused on the product.

Danae Ringelmann, co-founder of Indiegogo, reflected on her journey from an investment banker to the founder of the largest crowd-funding platform. According to her, a startup will survive the hard times if it is built upon a “why” that the founders are passionate about. A company’s “why” also informs the company’s strategy, attracts amazing employees and ensures that the company is building something that people need. Often, entrepreneurs fail because they lose their vision. By staying focused on their company’s “why”, i.e. why the company will improve the world, everything else will fall into place. After establishing the “why” at the core of the company, entrepreneurs must be ruthlessly dedicated to their product.

Ron Conway, founder of SVAngel, is considered the father of angel investing with early-stage investments in Google, Facebook and PayPal. He has invested in over 700 startups and has advised thousands of entrepreneurs. Ron’s vast experience allows him to make insights into common personality traits of successful founders. His observations have led him to believe that the best founders are absurdly focused on their product. These founders have an obsessive conviction to make sure every aspect of their product is perfect. This impressive dedication allows them to look past the small details of running a company and stay committed to what matters most – their product.

Although the conference portion of the event was valuable, what really made the day special was the networking portion. I was able to compare my entrepreneurial education at Ross with students from around the globe. This truly made me appreciate the thriving tech community in Ann Arbor and the extensive resources offered by the Zell Lurie Institute.

I plan on staying in touch with the fellow attendees I met with at Startup School and endeavor to create a partnership between the Ross Entrepreneur and Venture Club and other university entrepreneurial, student-run organizations. Thank you to the Zell Lurie Institute for allowing me to attend Startup School 2014 and I look forward to seeing more University of Michigan students in attendance for the 2015 event.

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