“Solve a real problem,” Michael Seibel, CEO and partner at Y Combinator, told SCET student entrepreneurs in the final A. Richard Newton Lecture Series of the semester. 

Seibel’s candid advice didn’t stop there. Throughout his talk, he shared forthright tips for success in the startup world. He discussed the biggest mistakes he sees in young founders and the necessary personality traits of innovators. 

“Find a job or role that you really want to do for a long time,” Seibel advised. Your career path should not be based on other people’s judgement, but based on what you actually want to do. “[Successful people] are not defining their success based on how others judge their work,” he added.  

As an undergraduate political science student at Yale, Seibel originally thought he was going to become a lawyer. It wasn’t until he spoke with a practicing lawyer that he realized the career wasn’t for him. It seems obvious, he says, but speak to someone with the job you think you want before entering that field. 

After graduating from Yale, Seibel moved to Silicon Valley to eventually co-found Justin.tv, which later became Twitch. He knew right away that startups were the right career path for him.

“There is a type of person who loves doing startups,” said Seibel. “There are people who are just as happy [not doing startups]. If you can get personal fulfillment you are winning.”

He emphasized that the startup lifestyle is not for everyone. It took time and growth to realize that people want different things out of their careers. “Even I at one point thought that people who weren’t founders were lazy and unmotivated,” he added. 

As CEO of Y Combinator, Seibel meets many founders and hears new startup ideas often. His best advice is to solve a real problem. “I don’t want to hear ideas,” he said. “I want to hear the problem that you’re solving. There must be a core badness around the problem you’re solving.” 

Seibel emphasized that it is vital to start a technology with people who can write code. And even if a team is capable, they still must be passionate about their mission. Lacking passion about a problem is “the under reported virus among founders today,” according to Seibel. 

“Do any industry you want, but give a shit about the problem you’re solving,” he added. “If it doesn’t work, don’t quit. Only hack for not quitting is caring about what you’re working on.”

During the talk, Seibel listed the personality traits of successful founders:

  1. You must have perseverance, you can’t care what the people around you think.
  2. You can’t think you’re too smart.
  3. If you think the odds apply to you, you wouldn’t make a startup. 
  4. You likely hate the alternative of working at a big company.
  5. At a startup, your work is your life. “Do you want an A or an F on your life?” 

His parting advice was to spend more time making friends. “Don’t be too cool to make friends. If you make a start up one day, it will most likely be [with] your college friends.”

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