A Focused Culture

Y Combinator

One thing I’ve noticed going through Y Combinator was how consistent were the messages repeated by the partners, the staffs, and the alumni network. As a startup founder, you should do two things: “write code and talk to users.” The more recent version is: “build product, talk to customers, and exercise” – which I think is a natural evolution, since YC funds a lot of non-software-only companies these days and the partners are getting a bit older. 😉

The entire message is around “Growth” and the way to get there is by writing code and talking to users. And stop doing anything else. Sounds simple, right?


Let me give you an example: I was invited to an international founder group within YC through email. So I’ve sent a reply, saying that I could contribute to the community by sharing my experience getting the L1 VISA. But the response I got back was simple: “you should be focused on your startup.”

We also have few guidelines internally, telling us not to do certain things to focus even more on growth, and hiring new employees during YC program is one of them. I’ve (mistakenly) reached out to one of YC alumni company that does recruiting services. I wanted to add my company to the list to get ourselves ready. The response I got from the founder was something like: “YC companies don’t hire during the batch. Come back when the program is over.”

Literally all the alumni who came for Tuesday dinner event said the same thing to the batchmates. You should be “writing code and talking to users.” This is inspiring, not just the substance of the message itself, but how focused the culture of YC is towards growth, and making sure all of the activities we do are focused to achieve real growth.

Back in 2001, I was interviewing many of the managers and some executives of Naver and Daum, two of the largest search engine / web portal of Korea in the days. The biggest key takeaway I got from interviewing the people from two of the biggest players was simple: Naver was going to win this battle.


Literally every single manager that I’ve talked to working for Naver, had only one goal in mind regardless of their division or product: Maximizing page views. Because they were getting revenues from online advertising, page views back in the early 2000s was the highest correlated metric aligned with the ad revenues.

Comparing with Daum, where also a lot of really smart and passionate people worked, the messages were diverse. One manager was talking about the user community, another was talking about their technologies, and the other was focusing on the market trends. They were all valid in their context, but I couldn’t help but notice their teams’ goals were not strongly aligned with each other.

Fast forward 15 years, Naver is valued around $15B+ and Daum was stagnant and got merged by Kakao, a new messaging company.

The lesson was simple: Stay focused on growth. Now go write code and talk to users.

Author: John

Positive tenacity. CEO at SendBird 💬 The no.1 conversations platform for mobile apps. Investor at Valon Capital. Ex-#1 FPS pro-gamer. ⭐️ Interested in creating scalable impact through technology.

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