Simon Willison’s Weblog

Entries in Jul, 2013

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What is the biggest team to join Y Combinator?

Larger teams that apply for YC generally have to nominate 2-3 “founders”, mainly for logistical reasons: there simply isn’t enough room at the dinners for larger groups. The non-founders don’t get to go to all of the dinners, though they can come along to a few of them as guests of the founders.

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Events (leisure): How do you organize a conferencce?

Read—and good luck!

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How do I choose between asynchronous web frameworks? My tech group is fairly language agnostic and we’re trying to standardize on some technologies.

Since they are all pretty close to each other and it sounds like your tech group’s skills would support any of them, I would suggest having your tram build a simple prototype in all three so you can compare them for your own particular team and situation.

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Presentations, when’s the best time to give your personal background?

It’s rarely a good idea to include this—usually it adds nothing to the audience’s understanding of presentation, unless you are speaking on a topic that really needs that additional authority (security presentations sometimes benefit from this)—in which case keep it to a couple of sentences, don’t share your entire professional history.

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Would you pay for a service that allowed you to shadow people in your profession of interest?

As a high school student I would not have paid for this. It’s a big gamble (what if I spend money only to find out that the career doesn’t interest me), it relies on me having a good idea about what I want to do first (which I didn’t), it’s something I can get for free elsewhere by taking to friends of family, and I didn’t have any money to spend anyway.

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What has Google given out at I/O in the past years?

I/O 2013 was a Chromebook Pixel (with or without LTE) and 1 terabyte of Google Drive space for three years.

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Is it difficult to make a dating site? My budget is small. Any suggestion?

Yes, it’s hard. Technologically, dating sites are not that complicated. The difficulty is keeping them populated enough that they remain useful for your users.

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What Javascript tools are there for cleansing input?

Don’t cleanse. Escape instead.

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What are some JavaScript concepts that took you the longest to understand?

Closures, prototype inheritance, and the “this” keyword.

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What is the best way to notify participants of a planned meeting?

Google Calendar invites work really well—they’re sent via email and are reasonably usable even by people who don’t themselves use Google Calendar.

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Do I need to change something on my LIVE website to do Remote usability testing? Am I needed to create a duplicate copy of my website?

You should be able to run a working copy (potentially with fake data or a subset of your production data) on your laptop, for development purposes. You can use the same setup for usability testing new features.

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Does creating a zip file with php use more RAM then CPU? Or vise versa? Also, is it faster to use a system call, or the php zip library? Exec (zip vs. $zip =new ZipArchive().

You can find out the answer yourself using a very simple benchmark—just call time() before and after each option and loop them a few thousand times to calculate an average.

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Which companies in London are using Python?

We use Python/Django for—we’re based in London.

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How do professionals build and maintain their websites?

The HTML and CSS for large, professional websites is usually written by hand, in a text editor. Tools like Dreamweaver are avoided by most skilled web developers.

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What’s an idea worth?

I like Derek Siver’s model proposed here:

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How can I successfully organize a conference?

PPK’s conference organisers handbook is crammed with useful advice on running this kind of event:

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I have an idea for a website, with an idea for eventually having cashflow out of it? However, my skills are insufficient to build it and I have no money at all to hire someone—what’s my best starting point?

You either need to learn some skills, or you need to earn some money. Sadly, having a good idea is not enough—you need to be able to execute it as well.

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Does preparing before a presentation actually help one’s presentation?

Yes, in all cases. Not preparing adequately is disrespectful to your audience.

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Are there any Twitter apps funded by Y Combinator? was originally a Twitter app (required Twitter for signin and social graph) back when we were funded by YC. We didn’t really think of ourselves as a “Twitter app” though, and I don’t think that aspect if the service was influential in getting accepted in to YC.

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How would you know if your start up is just ’reinventing the wheel"? Should you just stop or just keep going?

If you have enthusiastic users (or paying customers) then it doesn’t matter if you are “reinventing the wheel” or not.

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How much do personal chefs make?

There was a great AMA by a private chef on reddit last year which touches on this, plus a bunch of other interesting points:

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Hackers: Who is a good speaker or author on hacktivism and/or the recent events of leaking confidential information?

Danny O’Brien comes to mind. He’s worked for the EFF and the Committee to Protect Journalists, is fully immersed in hacker culture and is a fantastic speaker:

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What are the good practices to design responsive emails compatible with all email clients?

The biggest challenge for any kind of email design is definitely testing. We’ve had great experiences using Litmus for testing—it shows you what your email looks like in dozens of different webmail providers and mobile devices.

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At seed funding stage, how can a Startup protect itself from losing the majority?

Firstly, don’t sell a majority stake in your company. Secondly, hire competent legal advice to make sure you fully understand the terms of your investment and don’t get caught out through misunderstanding board voting rights, preferred vs common stock, liquidation preferences etc.

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Are there any sites/services that you can subscribe to where you can watch a developer code “Live”?

The Ludum Dare game development contest sometimes has contestants that livestream—Notch (the creator of Minecraft) has done so in the past.

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For developers and Startup Founders, what software licenses would you prefer to use instead of open source options, if you had unlimited funding?

With unlimited funding... I’d still prefer to build my company on open source licensed components. It’s not about the price (heck, I’d use my unlimited funding to support the projects my company benefited from)—it’s about the freedom to understand exactly how everything works, fix stuff that doesn’t, and benefit from the community of others solving the same kinds of problems.

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What things can you find in London but not in New York City?

A train that will take you directly to Paris.

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My boss wants me to choose drupal over django for website develpment.How can I convince him to choose django?

You could point him to Django (web framework): Why did stop using Drupal?

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Should you apply to Y Combinator if your initial users are not in the US?

Yes, for a few of reasons:

  1. Getting traction anywhere is a great sign that you can Build Something People Want, which is YC’s slogan. Having users who don’t fit in to the tech-heavy early adopter niche is an even more positive sign.
  2. YC are always experimenting with different combinations of startup concepts, markets and founders. If you are significantly different from other groups they have funded before that might actually help you in the application process.
  3. EVERY startup should fill out the YC application form, even if they have no intention if applying (you don’t have to submit it, you could even just print it out and answer the questions privately). It’s a very well designed application form, and answering the questions on it will teach you a lot of useful things about your startup and your team.
One more point: YC doesn’t require you to move to Silicon Valley permanently, aside from the 3 months of core YC activity. There are plenty of YC companies that end up outside of the Bay Area—our company is based in London (with several other YC companies), there are plenty in New York and I believe there are quite a few in other countries as well.

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What technologies were used in developing web applications in the ’90s?

Perl. Lots of Perl. There was a site called Matt’s Script Archive which was full of terribly written Perl scripts for things like hit counters and form emailers and guest books. It was very popular.

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