This is an excerpt from the introduction I give to my group at Y Combinator at our orientation before each batch begins.
Several years ago my my cofounder Michael and I were recalling the early days of Justin.tv when he made a memorable observation to me: “Isn’t it funny that we knew so many geniuses back then?”
Michael was referring to the group of us founders that all lived in the same apartment building, called Crystal Towers, in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood. After we had moved in to work on Justin.tv in October of 2006, we were quickly followed by a slew of other YC founders, including those of Reddit, Dropbox, Disqus, Weebly and Scribd. The founders were all attracted by the community and because the apartments were leased month-to-month and came furnished. The founders in our early group were all close, and most went on to create companies worth hundreds of millions or billions of dollars — quite impressive when you consider the group’s average rate of success.
My thought then was the same as it is now: we weren’t geniuses. For the most part, the founders were of above average drive and above average talent, but weren’t “multiple-standard-deviations-above-normal” geniuses. What each of the companies had in common was that they built something that was useful, created a feedback loop of getting user feedback and iterating on the product, and kept at their startups long enough for the market they were in to mature.
The fundamental wave we all rode was that Internet technology is a growth market: more and more people come online every year and then spend a greater share of their wallet online. The same has been true of mobile, and will be true for new technologies like VR. If you build something in a growth market that even a small number of people use, de facto you are riding a wave and your company will grow over time — all you have to do is keep going.
It often takes a long time to find your place in the market. We were in Year 5 of Justin.tv before Emmett thought of the idea to focus our live video site exclusively on gaming and built the skeleton of what eventually became Twitch. Twitch started with a small group of passionate gaming broadcasters and viewers, and the market for esports and gaming related media grew around it to over 100 million monthly viewers today.
I deeply believe that if three recent college grads (and one dropout) could turn an online reality tv show into a billion dollar company then literally anyone can be successful online. The founders I know who have created great businesses started with a good insight into something a few people wanted, and then survived long enough for many more people to realize they also wanted it.
Survive and thrive.