Be a Cult Leader (or things I learned at YCNYC)

I attended YC NYC on Monday where I had the fortune to listen to many vastly experienced people speak to a rapt crowd. Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian opened the night by welcoming us and thanking everyone for coming. After warming up the crowd Alexis introduced YCombinator co-founder Paul Graham.

PG took the stage and delivered a very level and even talk on the NYC startup scene as he sees it. TechCrunch has very solid coverage of what PG covered in his speech so I encourage you to go there if you’re interested in what he said. The gist of it being that ultimately the NYC startup scene will not overtake Silicon Valley however it is currently growing and can thrive with connections to Silicon Valley.

After PG there was a Q&A session with all of the YC advisors. This part I found most interesting as it was casual and allowed each advisor to speak frankly.

One of the most interesting comments, which turned into a semi-theme during the Q&A session, was the oft-repeated phrase ‘Be a Cult leader’. This came about after answering a question on the qualities that a good start-up founder should have. Most advisors agreed that they found themselves mostly investing in a company because of its founder and not because of the idea. What they found themselves drawn to was the passion of the founder for their idea. The founder must be so passionate so as to convert those around him or her to their idea so as to allow the start-up to thrive. Or said another way: ‘Be a Cult leader’.

For in many ways a successful start-up (and company) is a cult. The prime example of course is Apple and the Cult of Jobs. The passion, vision, and drive exhibited in a leader ripples throughout their company, providing equal inspiration for every acolyte. So when times get bad you’re able to shake off the negativity and focus on the goal. When times are good you’re able to sprint faster than any competitor.

YC NYC was a great experience because of the people there. Without the shared enthusiasm of everyone in that room the night would not have been as successful as it was. As I learned: a person is successful, not an idea.