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Sales Education for Engineering Undergrads Who Might Not Be Founders In The Short Term

by Larry Chiang on October 9, 2014

By Larry Chiang

Sales is a dangerous word.

But since I blog dangerously, I will use it.

Technical co-founders should have sales skills just like their two other technical co-founders. All three co-founders code. All three promote.
— Larry Chiang

I wanted to call this article, “Knowledge YC teases us about but does not elaborate”. For example, James Bond. For example sales skills get mentioned time and time again in the most vague and roundabout method of delivery possible. Inside Y-Combinator (YC), the concepts of cold calling, sales promotion and sales execution are avoided but semi-circularly advocated. Please see this Jessica Livingston blog post (italics and bold are mine):

“The Collison brothers founded Stripe, which does payment processing online. When these guys got started, they were a pair of young programmers. They had no idea how to make deals with banks and credit card companies.

I asked Patrick, “How did you even convince these big companies to work with you?” One trick that worked was to start with a phone call. Then people would pay attention to their arguments without being distracted by their youth. By the time they met in person and the companies could tell how young they were, they were already impressed.


This issue of sales (in the execution by an undergrad is something that I pattern recognize time and time again. Also see the hashtag #DTTDSbhm (do things that don’t scale BUT HAVE MOMENTUM). Sales promotion and sales concepts even get euphimized (or youth-in-asia-ized, Freudian slip! Euthenized like the Freudian slip Paul Graham (P.G.) lecture #3, in CS 183b minute #15).

I quote PG’s sales advocacy when he said “Do things that dont scale”

Jessica Livingston goes on to reveal that, “Startup School began as an experiment to “open source” Y Combinator. YC itself takes three months and we can only fund a limited number of startups. But we wanted to see how much we could give everyone for free in one concentrated day of talks.” In 2008 at Kresge, 80% of the speakers promoted the concept of selling ideas and selling early versions of product. See my gigaom post. Or see Hacker News.

There is a Wall Street Journal piece by Jessica Livingston ( that has sales in the title but see this revealing quote: “Our advice at Y Combinator is always to make a really good product and go out and get users manually.”

By get users manually, Jessica Livingston means sales.

This sales advocacy harkens back to “#dttdsBHM” (Do thinkg that do not scale (like sales), but have Momentum). I am Larry Chiang and my mentor Mark McCormack forced the word sales on me and between semesters at engineering school, I sold and practiced sales. Summer #1 I sold Daily Illini advertising. Summer #2 I sold cars. Summer #3, I sold cars at the District level for GM.

If you’re a Stanford for engineering. Maybe just have one internship be sales and distribution. Then do five “Pop Up Internships”, one study abroad and maybe co-term (cuz getting that masters degree makes having redshirted in Football kinda worth it)

This is the keynote where I was the assistant to a room full of undergrad females. My 24 job was to get them contact info for speakers and connect them.


Larry Chiang graduated engineering school and crashed classes at the B-school. He landed a teaching gig at Stanford by abdicating the Stanford Women in Business lectern. After just three minutes and thirty-three seconds, he delegated his keynote and Stanford Daily wrote: Conference Gathers Young Women for Business. After a Harvard Law keynote that he did not abdicate-quit-delegate, Harvard Business wrote “What They Don’t Teach You at Stanford Business School“ (it’s the same title as his 2009 NY Times bestseller). He is the founding “Entrepreneur in Residence” at Stanford University. If you read his hilariously awesome “What a Supermodel Can Teach a Stanford MBA”, “How to Get Man-Charm”, and reducing sales friction by doing the “LCRRM” rebate, you will love his translation of Y Combinator advice in

Sales Education for Engineering Undergrads Who Do NOT Want to Be Founders.

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