The Path to $100B by Paul Buchheit | Summary and Q&A

October 24, 2018
Y Combinator
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The Path to $100B by Paul Buchheit


Paul Buchheit, creator of Gmail and former Google employee, shares his journey from the Midwest to Silicon Valley and his insights on startups.

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Key Insights

  • 👉 The content discusses Paul Buchheit's journey from his upbringing to his time at Y Combinator and Google. He shares his interest in startups and his affinity for creating cool new inventions.
  • 🚀 Paul highlights the importance of being focused and having a clear vision for the future. He emphasizes the need to identify an urgent problem in the market and create a solution that resonates with customers.
  • 💡 The concept of a tipping point is brought up, indicating that success is achieved when demand exceeds supply. Paul suggests that startups should focus on finding customers who have a pressing need for their product or service.
  • 💰 Frugality and resourcefulness are key traits for startups, as they need to do more with less. Paul advises against overthinking and getting caught up in delusions, emphasizing the importance of staying close to customers and addressing their immediate needs.
  • 🌟 Paul explores the qualities that contribute to building an epic company, including obsession, focus, and love for what you do. He uses Elon Musk and his commitment to SpaceX as an example of exceptional dedication.
  • ❓ A question is raised about Google's unsuccessful foray into social networking. Paul explains that it wasn't a priority for Google and that they underestimated the significance of social media. He also highlights the strong competition and technical complexity that companies like Facebook possessed in that space.


it is now my great pleasure to introduce my longtime colleague at Y Combinator Paul Buchheit Paul is known for a lot of things not the least of which is his wisdom and all things when it comes to startups but he's also of course the creator of Gmail the inventor this is true of don't be evil and has a has had an incredible career so I just thought ... Read More

Questions & Answers

Q: How did Paul Buchheit come up with the idea for Gmail?

Paul Buchheit had been interested in email for a long time and wanted to create a web-based email service that would allow users to access their email from anywhere. He started by building a simple email search function and expanded from there based on user feedback and feature requests.

Q: How does Paul Buchheit define the tipping point for a market?

According to Buchheit, the tipping point for a market comes when a startup can't keep up with the demand for its product or service. This is a clear indicator that the startup has achieved product-market fit and is on the path to success.

Q: Why did Google fail to become a successful social networking platform?

Buchheit believes that Google's focus on technical innovation and computer science problems rather than the social aspect of a product like Twitter or Facebook was one of the reasons why they failed to succeed in social networking. Additionally, by the time Google tried to compete with Facebook, Facebook was already way ahead in terms of understanding social dynamics and user engagement.

Q: How does Paul Buchheit define an epic company?

According to Buchheit, an epic company is one that is sitting on top of a major exponential change in the world and has the potential to create significant value. This can be achieved through a combination of focus, frugality, obsession, and love for what you're doing. The key is to identify and capture the exponential change in a way that solves an urgent problem for customers.


In this video, Paul Buchheit, the creator of Gmail and a former employee at Google and Facebook, shares his journey and insights on building epic companies. He discusses his interest in startups from an early age, his decision to move to California to pursue startup opportunities, his experience working at Intel and Google, and the founding of Gmail and FriendFeed. He emphasizes the importance of focus, frugality, and obsession in building successful startups and highlights the need to stay close to customers and constantly iterate on product development.

Questions & Answers

Q: How did Paul Buchheit become interested in startups?

Paul became interested in startups from an early age. He didn't like the idea of working for someone else and was fascinated by the potential for creating new inventions and making a lot of money. He was inspired by inventors like Tesla and wanted to be smarter at business than them.

Q: Why did Paul decide to move to California?

Paul recognized that most of the successful internet companies in the 90s were located in California, particularly Silicon Valley. Companies like eBay, Netscape, and Yahoo had already gone public by the time he graduated college, so he knew it was the place to be for startup opportunities.

Q: What was Paul's experience working at Intel?

Paul took a job at Intel with the hope of finding startup opportunities in the area. While it wasn't a terrible job, he didn't see himself working there long-term. He felt that working at a large company restricted his ability to be innovative and make a meaningful impact.

Q: How did Paul end up working at Google?

Paul mentioned that he emailed his resume to several startups that were working on Linux-related projects. However, most of the emails bounced, except for Google, where he was hired as the 23rd employee. He joined Google in 1999 when it was still a small company and worked there for seven years.

Q: What was the environment like at Google when Paul joined?

Paul describes the environment at Google as being filled with a buzz of productivity. The company had a team of impressive engineers who were passionate about building big systems and creating great products. There was a palpable excitement to come to work every day and make a significant impact.

Q: When did Paul realize that Google was becoming a big, successful company?

Paul admits that while he believed in the potential of Google early on, he constantly underestimated its future success. He felt a sense of something magical happening at the company within his first week, but he didn't anticipate it becoming as big and influential as it is today.

Q: How did Paul come up with the idea for Gmail?

Paul had been interested in email for a long time and had even tried to create a web-based email service while in college. However, he didn't have the technical expertise or resources at the time to succeed. When he joined Google, he decided to build an email search function as an experiment, which eventually evolved into Gmail.

Q: How did Paul and his team develop Gmail?

The development of Gmail followed an iterative process based on user feedback. Paul initially built a basic email search feature and emailed it to the engineering team for feedback. As people requested additional features and improvements, Paul and his team incorporated them into subsequent versions of Gmail. They also had a goal of achieving 100 happy users within Google before launching it publicly.

Q: Why did Paul leave Google and start FriendFeed?

Paul left Google because he felt it was becoming too big and he wanted to start something new. He started FriendFeed with former colleagues from Google, aiming to create a company culture reminiscent of Google's early days. However, FriendFeed struggled to compete with Facebook, and eventually, FriendFeed was acquired by Facebook.

Q: Did Paul observe any similarities or differences between Google and Facebook?

Paul noticed similarities between Google and Facebook, including the focus on building innovative products and the energy within the office. However, he also recognized the conviction and determination of Facebook's founder, Mark Zuckerberg, who was not easily swayed by outside opinions. Facebook's success was rooted in understanding and serving the network of users, which was different from Google's product-focused mindset.


Paul Buchheit's journey from working at Intel, to joining Google and creating Gmail, to starting FriendFeed and eventually selling it to Facebook, provides valuable insights for aspiring entrepreneurs. He emphasizes the importance of focus, frugality, and obsession in building successful startups. Startups should find a deep appeal for a specific group of customers and amplify their efforts to create maximum value with minimal resources. Staying close to customers, constantly iterating, and maintaining a clear vision are key to building epic companies. It is crucial to pay attention to past failures and successes in order to learn and grow as a founder.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • Paul Buchheit grew up in the Midwest and developed an interest in startups from a young age.

  • He moved to Silicon Valley and took a job at Intel before landing a position at Google as their 23rd employee.

  • Buchheit left Google and co-founded FriendFeed before eventually selling it to Facebook.

  • He now works with Y Combinator, sharing his experiences and insights with aspiring entrepreneurs.

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