At TechCrunch40 this morning, Michael Moritz interviewed Marc Andreessen (Netscape, Loudcloud, Opsware, Ning), David Filo, (Yahoo) and Chad Hurley (YouTube) about their experiences and advice for the entrepreneurs in the audience. What was striking was how modest their expectations were in the early days of what ultimately became billion dollar companies. Marc Andreessen said his primary ambition was to get out of the midwest when he moved to California. At the time he joined Netscape no one had any idea that there was a way to make money on the Internet. Similarly, David Filo and Jerry Yang were bored with graduate school and started Yahoo in their spare time. No one had any idea how they were going to make money, as web-based advertising had yet to be invented. Chad Hurley and his two partners started YouTube to solve some problems they had and build the first version in a few months.
Marc Andreessen pointed out that a startup needs an idea that is "crazy enough" that no established company is already doing it. He also pointed out that 999 of every 1,000 such ideas really are crazy. Thus, he too recommends starting out with something the entrepreneurs would use themselves.
On the question of what tips they would give to entrepreneurs:
- Make sure one of the founders can be a CEO, since hiring an outsider is very risky. (Andreessen)
- Don't hire too quickly - wait until you have a product-market fit. That keeps the burn low (Andreessen) and makes the company more nimble (Hurley).
- Look at how you are using the product yourself. (Hurley)
- Attract people who are passionate about the space the company is in. (Filo).
As much as all the panelists agreed on the idea of staying small, the one regret they have is that with the hindsight of seeing how fast they would grow, that they should have hired faster.