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hackNY Speaker Series – Chris Dixon

July 17, 2011

On Monday, 11th July, 2011, the Hunch office played host to hackNY. We were there to listen to Chris Dixon, who is the CEO and co-founder of Hunch and an angel investor. Many might recognize him from Tech Crunch’s Founder Stories section where he appears frequently to talk to other cool entrepreneurs.

Chris is very well-regarded in the New York tech scene, and we were all looking forward to a great session.

“Philosophy of  ____”
Chris talked about his decision to major in philosophy. The great thing about studying philosophy, he said, was that one could say “philosophy of blank” and fill in that blank with anything. The idea is to “know a little about a lot of things, and be an expert on one or two things.” He also spoke about how being a philosophy major also made him write a lot, which was good exercise.1

Non-technical doesn’t mean non-valuable
Dixon said that even though a non-technical co-founder typically doesn’t have a lot to do in the very early stages of a company, he could prove to be a lot of help when the company goes fund-raising – especially in the seed round. He talked about how raising the seed round can be extremely hard and can mean 3 months of no sleep – a co-founder could be very valuable in such a situation. Not to mention that a non-technical co-founder could take care of all the logistical issues around running a startup.

Which comes first – the idea or the startup?
Chris spoke about one possible approach to starting a company – it is to have an instinct about something that might be interesting and to “throw your hat in the ring.” Chris said, “Often, when you are doing a startup you are filling up holes which you don’t find till you are participating in that field.”

“If you guys were the inventors of Facebook – you would have invented Facebook.” 2
“People over-estimate the importance of the initial idea,” Dixon said. Nothing’s new anymore, Dixon said, adding that “all of the things were thought of in the 90’s.” He encouraged us to look at things being done by others, and to “do it better – it’s so much about execution.”

The startup funnel
Dixon likened entry into the startup world to a funnel – lots of people say they want to jump in, but the real prohibitor is that most people don’t actually quit their job and do it.3

The incumbents’ laser-focus = your opportunity
Chris spoke about how many startup opportunities existed in areas which already had large incumbents. He talked about how these incumbents already have a highly focused lens, how the entire institution is itself based around that focus, and why that makes it really hard for them to look anywhere outside that lens.

“The startup world”
Dixon said that being an entrepreneur really meant entering the “startup world”, and staying for the long haul (at least 5-7 years). This “world” is a network of a few thousand people – it’s a very small world where everyone knows everyone else. Most important though, Chris said that success in this world is not judged by the number of failures you were a part of – rather, it is judged by the max function of your ventures as an entrepreneur. Hence, when thinking about entrepreneurship as a career, one must understand that people dramatically over-estimate the risk involved in being an entrepreneur.

All in all, the fellows had a great time listening to Chris, and I hope we get the chance to work closely with him in the future.

1. Judging by how neat his blog is, it probably paid off! So many of our speakers have spoken about the importance of writing well – Spolsky talked about it too. I always thought good writing skills were just something valuable to have but these guys seem to reiterate that the importance of writing is not exaggerated.

2. a quote from the movie “The Social Network”

3. This reminded me of Mark Suster‘s quote from a talk he gave at Stanford which I had watched just a few days earlier –
“There’s a huge premium for taking the first leap. My colleagues at Andersen Consulting used to go, we should do this and we should do that, and I freakin’ did it. And they came to me to work for 1%.”

Uncannily enough (for me), this video interview (below) of Dixon by Suster was posted just a couple of days later. I recommend it.


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