Later Stage Advice with Sam Altman (How to Start a Startup 2014: Lecture 20) | Summary and Q&A

May 1, 2017
Y Combinator
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Later Stage Advice with Sam Altman (How to Start a Startup 2014: Lecture 20)


This video discusses important factors to consider as a startup scales, including management, HR, company productivity, and maintaining focus, with a focus on the transition from building a product to building a company.

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Key Insights

  • šŸ‘‘ Management: As a startup scales, it's important to establish clear management structures and reporting lines. Avoid overly complex structures and focus on clarity and simplicity.
  • šŸ’¼ Founder Transition: The role of a founder shifts from building a great product to building an integrated company. This shift requires hiring senior executives, delegating effectively, and developing personal organization systems.
  • šŸ“ˆ Company Productivity: Productivity can decline as a company grows, so it's crucial to focus on alignment and clear goals. Regular communication through management and all-hands meetings is important to maintain productivity.
  • šŸ“° Marketing and PR: Marketing and PR become more important as a startup succeeds. Founders should focus on key messaging and establish personal connections with journalists rather than outsourcing these tasks to PR firms.
  • šŸ’¼ Business Development: Business development becomes crucial as a startup grows. Founders should focus on developing personal connections, competitive dynamics, and persistence in order to secure deals and partnerships.
  • šŸ’ø Financial and Legal Considerations: Startups should establish good financial and accounting practices and organize legal documents early on to avoid future issues. Tax structuring and IP/trademark protection are also key considerations.
  • šŸ˜Š Founder Psychology: Founders should be prepared for the emotional journey of entrepreneurship, as the highs and lows can be intense. Developing resilience, managing burnout, and staying focused are important for long-term success.
  • šŸ’¼ Diversity: Hiring a diverse team is important for success, as it brings different perspectives and backgrounds. Diversity of backgrounds is important, but alignment towards shared goals is essential.
  • šŸŒ Starting a Startup Outside Silicon Valley: While Silicon Valley is still the top choice for starting a startup, other cities such as Seattle and Los Angeles can also provide a supportive ecosystem. International locations are also viable options. ā° Knowing When to Quit: It's important to recognize when a startup is failing and communicate this to investors and employees. Graceful exits and ensuring employees are taken care of are crucial in these situations.
  • ā™€ļø Getting Involved with Y Combinator: There is no specific way to get involved with Y Combinator before getting funded, but working at a YC company can improve chances of getting in. YC looks for good founders and good ideas in prospective startups.
  • šŸ” Market Exploration: If you are excited about a market you don't know much about, there are two options: jump in and learn as you go, or work at a company in that market to gain experience and insights.
  • šŸŒŸ Y Combinator Selection Criteria: Y Combinator looks for good founders and good ideas. Growth in the number of applicants hasn't made it more difficult to get into YC, and as long as you have a strong passion and a viable idea, you have a reasonable chance.
  • šŸ“Š The Mathematics of Funding: The increase in the number of YC companies receiving funding shows that investors are increasingly interested in funding YC startups. The growth has not created any problems or decreased the chances of receiving funding.
  • šŸš€ Raising Seed Money: It's ideal to wait until you have a well-defined idea or initial signs of success before raising seed money. Raising money before this stage can create unnecessary pressure and limit the exploratory phase of the startup.


all right good afternoon and welcome to the last class of how to start a startup so this is a little bit different than every other class every other class has been things that you should be thinking about in general at the beginning of a startup and today we're going to talk about things that you want to think about for a while in fact you shouldn... Read More

Questions & Answers

Q: Why is it important to establish clear reporting structures as a startup scales?

As a startup grows, establishing clear reporting structures is crucial to ensure effective decision-making and teamwork. Without clear reporting, lack of structure can lead to decreased productivity and confusion among employees. By defining reporting structures, everyone knows who to communicate with and who to go to for guidance or decision-making.

Q: Why is it important to document how and why things are done within the company?

Documenting how and why things are done within the company is essential for scalability and consistency. As the company grows and new employees join, having documented processes and values ensures that everyone is on the same page and understands how things should be done. It also helps maintain a strong company culture and allows for efficient onboarding of new team members.

Q: How can founders effectively delegate tasks to their employees?

Founders should delegate tasks by empowering their employees to make decisions on their own. Rather than providing step-by-step instructions, founders should provide guidance, set expectations, and trust their employees' abilities. By doing so, founders can foster a sense of ownership and accountability among their team members.

Q: When should founders consider hiring a professional CEO for their startup?

Hiring a professional CEO is not necessary for every startup. In fact, many successful companies are led by their founders for a long time. However, if a founder is not interested in being a long-term CEO or does not have the necessary skills or experience, they may consider hiring a professional CEO. This decision should be made when the company is at a stage where the leadership role requires more focus on scaling the company rather than product development.


In this last class of "How to Start a Startup," the speaker shares a list of important things to consider as your startup scales. These are often areas where founders fail to transition successfully. The topics covered include management, building a great product, hiring senior executives, delegating effectively, personal organization, writing down processes, HR, productivity, marketing and PR, business development, tax structuring, focus and persistence, and maintaining a long-term perspective. The speaker also emphasizes the importance of building relationships with journalists and being clear about what you want in negotiations.

Questions & Answers

Q: What does the speaker recommend in terms of management as a startup scales?

As a startup scales, it is important to establish a clear reporting structure and ensure that everyone knows who their manager is and who their direct reports are. Clarity and simplicity are key, and changes to the structure should be made thoughtfully. It is best not to innovate in management structure and to prioritize building a great product over complex management systems.

Q: What does the speaker believe is the biggest shift in being a founder?

The speaker believes that the biggest shift in being a founder occurs as the company grows and reaches around 25 employees. At this point, the founder's main job shifts from building a great product to building an integrated company. This shift requires the founder to focus on management and building a team, rather than solely on product development.

Q: What are some common mistakes founders make when transitioning to management roles?

There are four common mistakes that founders make when transitioning to management roles:

  1. Being afraid to hire senior people early on. It is often valuable to have experienced executives on the team as the company scales.
  2. Falling into "hero mode," where founders try to do everything themselves and refuse to delegate. This leads to burnout and prevents the team from scaling.
  3. Bad delegation, where founders do not effectively delegate tasks and decision-making. This can make employees feel unempowered and hinder the company's growth.
  4. Lack of personal organization. Founders need to develop systems to track their own tasks and follow-ups to avoid becoming overwhelmed and disorganized.

Q: What are the benefits of writing down how and why things are done in a company?

Writing down how and why things are done in a company is important for establishing clarity and consistency as the company grows. It prevents reliance on oral tradition and ensures that every employee understands how things should be done and why. It also allows the founder to establish the company's cultural values and provides a foundation for decision-making as the company expands.

Q: When should HR become a focus for a startup?

HR is typically ignored in the early stages of a startup, but it becomes important as the company grows. Establishing clear structures, performance feedback systems, and compensation bands are crucial. It is also important to consider equity distribution and refreshers for employees. HR should be taken seriously and not just seen as the "bad kind of TV HR."

Q: How can a founder ensure company productivity as the startup scales?

One of the most important factors in maintaining company productivity is alignment. If everyone in the company knows the goals and roadmap, and is working towards the same direction, productivity is likely to be high. Clear communication, transparent processes, and regular all-hands meetings are also important. Avoiding distractions and staying focused on the product is crucial.

Q: What does the speaker recommend to founders with regards to marketing and PR?

In the early stages of a startup, founders can largely ignore marketing and PR. However, as the company becomes successful, it is important for founders to personally develop the key messaging of the company and build relationships with key journalists. Establishing authentic connections and understanding what journalists want can lead to better press coverage. Hiring a PR firm may not be the most effective approach.

Q: How should founders approach business development?

Business development becomes important as a startup scales. Founders should focus on developing personal connections with potential partners and investors. It is important to care about the other party's interests and develop mutually beneficial relationships. Competitive dynamics and persistence also play a role in business development.

Q: What advice does the speaker have regarding tax structuring?

The speaker suggests thinking about tax structuring and setting it up properly once the startup is successful and financially stable. This involves setting up the appropriate tax structures and entities to optimize tax benefits. It is important to consult with experts and understand the implications before making any decisions in this area.

Q: How should founders manage their own psychology as the startup grows?

Founders must be prepared for the psychological challenges that come with startup growth. The highs and lows become more intense, and founders may face criticism or negative comments. It is important to develop resilience and seek support from mentors or peers. Taking vacations, maintaining focus, and having a long-term perspective can also help with managing psychological well-being.

Q: How can founders maintain a sense of gratitude and avoid burnout?

Maintaining gratitude involves appreciating the opportunity to build a startup and recognizing that failures are part of the journey. It is important to have a support system and celebrate small wins. Taking breaks and going on vacations is important to prevent burnout. Founders should also stay focused on the long-term journey and keep their commitment to building a successful company.


As a startup scales, founders need to pay attention to management, productivity, HR, marketing and PR, business development, tax structuring, and maintaining focus. They should hire senior executives and delegate effectively, establish clear reporting structures, and develop personal organization systems. It is important to write down processes and cultural values, implement performance feedback systems, and establish compensation bands. Founders must focus on aligning the company and maintaining productivity, as well as building relationships with journalists and being clear in negotiations. Developing personal connections, understanding competitive dynamics, and being persistent are crucial for business development. Founders should also consider tax structuring and take care of their own psychology to avoid burnout. Overall, a long-term perspective and gratitude can help founders navigate the challenges of scaling a startup.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • Management: As a startup grows, it is important to establish clear reporting structures and a management system that allows for effective decision-making and teamwork.

  • HR: Ignoring HR early on is a mistake. Establishing clear structures, performance feedback, compensation bands, and equity distribution is crucial as the company grows. Additionally, consider diversity and think about the long-term career paths of your early employees.

  • Company Productivity: Productivity systems and processes become increasingly important as the company scales. Focus on alignment, goal-setting, transparency, and rhythm in communication. Don't lose sight of building a great product.

  • Building a Great Company: Transition from building a great product to building a great company. Consider hiring senior executives, avoiding hero mode, delegating effectively, and organizing personal tasks. Also, focus on documenting and communicating how and why things are done within the company.

  • Marketing and PR: Initially, focus on building a great product. However, as the company grows, develop key messaging, establish relationships with key journalists, and consider business development opportunities.

  • Other Considerations: Pay attention to accounting, legal, IP, tax structuring, and financial planning. Additionally, monitor your own leadership and psychology, as well as the well-being of your team.

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