Chris Sacca: Advice for Startups

This is part of my set of notes from the Startup School 2006 sessions at Stanford.

Chris Sacca is Google’s Head of Strategic Initiatives. Most of his time these days is spent being haunted by lamp-posts, and thoughts of what it would take to pull up to those lamp-posts and slap a wifi transceiver on them. In his session he covered some advice for startups, as well as shared some heartfelt concerns over the “sameness” he’s observed lately in the ventures entrepreneurs are choosing to create.


  • It’s never too early to start

Stay cheap!

  • Google is running massive amounts of computers. They’re running up against limits imposed by the speed of light – but they’ve got some guys working to try to accelerate to eek out a little extra performance 😉

Go big!

  • Google goal: Organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful
  • Believe there’s 5 million TBs of data out there, and they’ve only got 250 TBs

Focus on user experience

  • Most stuff breaks down one of three applications for users: making stuff, sharing stuff, and keeping stuff (organized)

Obsess over users!

  • Example: Email from Omid ordering turning off campaigns that were performing < 1.0%. Despite the fact that these adds were still turning 5 times industry click thru rates. Why? Because it didn’t serve the user’s interest.

Feed! Bring food into your culture

  • Food is where people let their guard down – most new ideas are conceived over lunch or dinner. Google has long tables that bring people together, mix them up.

Be Open!

  • Using open source, admits there are ways in that they’re falling short on their obligations on that front currently
  • TGIF: All employees gather in cafeteria. Larry and Sergey go over everything the company achieved that week, introduce all the new employees, take every single question from the audience. The level of transparency is incredible, creating a sense of openness and trust.

Geeks rule!

  • The secret sauce: set the bar as high as possible. The best engineers, the largest infrastructure, the hardest problems.
  • Compensation: not only best salary, but also many amenities that contribute to the best total compensation
  • In any day, there’s probably only 1 or 2 hours that are actually productive. They try to optimize the chance that the 1 or 2 hours is as productive as possible.
  • Founder’s awards – reward those who build something extraordinary as if they had built a company that had been acquired by Google.

Interesting people make interesting companies

  • Concerned about the number of MBAs/business school produced business plans creeping into the valley. When you see as many pitches as he does, everyone starts to look like sheep.
  • It’s easier than ever to build a company, and we’ve seen the results – all the Web 2.0 companies that cause his eyes to start to glaze over. Yikes!
  • Haven’t been unimpressed by the talent, but thematically, the innovation has gone stale
  • Hats off to Flickr – they figured out “interestingness”. I’ve been finding people to be less and less interesting. I just want people to stand out.
  • Used to encourage people to code for themselves – forget about coding for yourself.
  • Who to build for? How about Fortune 500 companies? There are old stodgy companies who need help to get more efficient. How about the developing world? They need software and hardware to aid their development.
  • How do you find these interesting sets of people? Go away! Travel out of your comfort zone, see the world!
  • Has seen 15-20 pitches this year that the camera phone would click to advertising. Just like in Japan. Right now.
  • The Internet is supplemental – log off now and then
  • Examination of logs for Freakonomics – shows how offline trends, like TV, affects online behavior. Believes that the interesting development will be in marrying offline with the online world.


  • We’re in times where we can’t be apathetic. Worried that he’s seeing less passion from those who are trying to build companies.
  • It goes beyond what you’re actually working on.
  • David Cole – calculated energy required to transport bottle water, represented as amount of oil in a bottle of water.
  • Google chefs are entrepreneurs as well, taking on the task of buying local

Listen more than you talk

Audience Questions

  • What’s the worst thing about Google? Besides all the bottled evil waiting to get out? We’re getting big, it’s hard to collaborate over dinner, to know what everyone’s working on, to keep it small, and maintain the transparency.
  • Women are much less forceful when they’re presenting ideas – how would you recommend they change their pitches to be more acceptable? Blogs and emails are the great equalizers. Right now, he looks to blogs to get a read on someone to see what they’re capable of doing. I’m also big on organizing your thoughts. People write emails that are overly forceful – a well-structured pitch has what you’re doing, why you’re doing, why you’re well positioned to solve that problem. Uses Meebo as an example of a company with predominately female coders.

Google WiFi Is Live

Google WiFi in Mountain ViewThis appears like it might be old news (someone reported early confirmations here, but I hadn’t spotted any signs to date), but I spotted a sign indicating the availability of free Google-provided WiFi down the street from my Mountain View apartment during a walk this morning.

The hotspot is located at “Kapp’s Pizza Bar and Grill” and has the SSID “Google WiFi”. Happy free surfing!