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Qasar Younis

Qasar Younis

Former General Partner & COO, Y Combinator

Qasar is a founder and angel investor, and was formerly a product manager and a venture capitalist. Most recently, Qasar has been General Partner and Chief Operating Officer at Y Combinator.

Y Combinator is a premier early stage venture fund in Silicon Valley that has seed funded hundreds of companies including AirBnB, Dropbox, Reddit, Twitch, Stripe, Heroku, Wufoo and many others. The aggregate value of Y Combinator seed funded companies now exceeds $80 billion.

Prior to joining Y Combinator, Qasar was the founder and CEO of TalkBin, (also funded by Y Combinator) which was acquired by Google. At Google, Qasar integrated his startup into Google Maps and went on to be Group Product Manager for business facing products. Prior to startups, Qasar was an automotive engineer at General Motors and Bosch. He has a BSc in Mechanical Engineering from Kettering University and a MBA from Harvard.


Mike Butcher: [00:00:03] I thought that what we'd do is talk a little bit more about you as an entrepreneur, and your journey, which I think is always, frankly, fascinating, especially when dealing with founders. You were born in Pakistan but you left when you were seven. How much do you remember?

Qasar Younis: [00:00:23] A lot. I mean, I'm still, I would say, I'm still quite Pakistani. I don't think you ever kind of leave that. We left for, I think, you know, a lot of reasons people leave Pakistan — it's like a shitty, poor country. So we came to the US, grew up in the Detroit area, and kind of like, I think, many folks in Silicon Valley, you know, was an engineer and studied engineering, and my kind of foray into the Valley and entrepreneurship was really driven by watching my father kind of get kicked around a little bit in what is now Trump's America. You know, those manufacturing Rust Belt states have gone through the problems that mainstream America is looking at now 20 years ago, and so I saw some of that growing up and thought, "oh shit." And then part of it was seeing my dad and saying, "look, I have to own my own business." And then part of it is recognizing that, you know, software is going to be a big thing — I'm actually a mechanical engineer by trade — and then recognizing, "oh shit, like there is real money to be made in software." If I've had one good thought in my life, it's recognizing software was going to be big. So after I was an engineer for a bunch of years, did an MBA, and I literally sold my stuff and moved to the Valley... I Think it was eight/nine years ago.

Mike Butcher: [00:01:42] When when you moved to the Valley did you feel that — did you get a sense that things were going to start blowing up there or did nobody really quite know.

Qasar Younis: [00:01:51] You know, the funny thing is, no matter what, if any of you guys move there, or live there, or lived there previously, no matter when you get there, people think it's too late. I think even if you got there in like 1998, you're like, "oh shit, all the good things have already happened," and now you're just on the wrong end of it. I definitely felt that in, you know, the late 2000s, clearly, you know, if you ask somebody now, they'll say, "well 2017 is — it's too late to go to the Valley." So, I think I'm —

Mike Butcher: [00:02:18] I can beat you. I Can remember joining an Internet magazine in 1996 and thinking, "oh, I'm too late. Damn, I missed it."

Qasar Younis: [00:02:27] And so, what's happened in the Valley is basically now you just have these three pillars which support the Valley. One is a large group of engineers. The Detroit area, probably maybe after Silicon Valley, is the largest concentration of engineers in America — it's a huge automotive industry. But the Valley...

Mike Butcher: [00:02:43] Not still?

Qasar Younis: [00:02:46] Yeah, maybe not still, but I think even now, though, the auto industry is massive. But, Silicon Valley, when we talk with software engineers, has a huge amount of software engineers. Number two, you have a large amount of sophisticated venture capital — or capital, period — in this vicinity. Early-stage venture capital. There's a lot of capital in the world. I think good capital and smart capital is very, very rare. And because the way venture works, these power law distributions, I mean it's not a random coincidence that, like, the vast majority, like over 90 percent of returns are concentrated to a handful of firms which all are, like, in the same neighborhood.

Mike Butcher: [00:03:22] Sand Hill Road.

Qasar Younis: [00:03:24] That's it, and like, that's not a coincidence. And what's really happening, like more abstract level, is, as the world — like take Uber for example — as like that money, that value, is being concentrated to Uber, it's actually been concentrated to the owners of Uber, and, so, you know, and that's going to be a couple of Sand Hill firms. And, so, that's the second pillar that Silicon Valley has. And the third is acquirers. You drive from San Francisco to San Jose and you will pass by 10 massive companies, and I don't mean massive like they made a billion dollars in revenue, I'm talking about they're worth, you know, like five hundred billion dollars. You have the Apples, you have the -.

Mike Butcher: [00:04:02] Oracle, et cetera...

Qasar Younis: [00:04:03] Just, so many that it's like foolish even to go down the list. That doesn't exist anywhere else in the world. So those three things, I think, have created this environment where no matter when you show up to the Valley — other ecosystems have versions of that, individually — but they don't have all those three things. And so, the next wave of things, whether it's, you know, we can talk about what those things are going to be. I think whoever comes then, in 2025 or 2030, they'll say we're a little too late. So yeah, I think that probably the good idea that I had was, "okay software is going to be big," and to move to the Valley.

Mike Butcher: [00:04:37] I hadn't planned to ask you this but just a quick segue...

Qasar Younis: [00:04:43] You can ask anything you want.

Mike Butcher: [00:04:43] Absolutely. I know. It's all no-holds-barred.

Qasar Younis: [00:05:04] The more controversial the better because I think everyone, you know, always want to hear that -.

Mike Butcher: [00:05:16] You talked about the concentration of capital in the Valley and everyone knows that that's a big deal. Constantly, I have to sort of remind entrepreneurs that, you know, the reason that, you know, Truro in Cornwall doesn't have lots of startups is because there's not a concentration of, you know, capital.

Qasar Younis: [00:05:28] There's capital. There's capital in a lot of places but like, specifically early stage capital, and when I mean early stage capital, I mean people who, like, you know, if everybody in the room got a hundred thousand dollars and you could spend it on startups, people would spend it very differently.

Mike Butcher: [00:05:35] Yes.

Qasar Younis: [00:05:35] And there's going to be maybe one person in the room who is actually going to allocate it the right way.

Mike Butcher: [00:05:39] It's about the smarts as well as the capital, hence why, you know, a lot of property money, you know flooding from the property market sort of ends up kind of sloshing around doing the wrong things, especially to begin with.

Qasar Younis: [00:05:47] Yes.

Mike Butcher: [00:05:47] Just a quick segue actually, because you reminded me of something that's a big topic at the moment, the rise of ICOs, initial coin offerings.

Qasar Younis: [00:05:51] Yes.

Mike Butcher: [00:05:51] You know, and, you know, the sort of tulip bubble to the effect of that at the moment. The South Sea bubble. Do you think that that's going to be an alternative funding mechanism for startups?

Qasar Younis: [00:06:02] It's very tough. I think, you know, the best investors in Silicon Valley very readily, very openly admit that they know virtually nothing. I have no idea what's going to happen with ICOs. My intuition-.

Mike Butcher: [00:06:17] There must- You must hear a lot of chatter about it.

Qasar Younis: [00:06:20] I'm doing my third startup right now and we're talking about fund raising and people are all like, "oh, you know, forget Sand Hill, just go and do an ICO." Like, my intuition is it doesn't- It seems like it's not sustainable. But I mean, I mean am I just too old? Like literally the other thought that I have is like maybe I'm not embracing...

Mike Butcher: [00:06:38] And maybe there's not the smarts involved. It's capital but not smarts.

Qasar Younis: [00:06:40] Yeah, I mean, so in 2014 roughly, I invested in probably eight blockchain companies that year, which is a fuck-ton of, you know, investments in blockchain.

Mike Butcher: [00:06:52] That is a lot, yes. Especially in 2014.

Qasar Younis: [00:06:53] Yeah, yeah, exactly. And I remember, you know, obviously I'd been super interested-.

Mike Butcher: [00:06:58] Were you caught up in the hype?

Qasar Younis: [00:07:00] So, that's what I thought. In 2015, 2016, I was like some of these companies are not doing well, some are- one of them is, I don't know, if- was this the right decision? And then you have this — again — this huge interest in the market. The point is, I don't know. The punchline is I don't know. I don't know. I can tell you personally, for my third company, I'm not going to do an ICO. So maybe that's like something I'd still- Because it's not purely about getting capital. Who you get as a board member is really important. Even Though, you know, I've spent a lot of time investing. I've done two startups. I've dad some financial success. I still, like, recognize how important having an independent board member who can tell me, "hey, your, you know, you're seeing this business the right or the wrong way." And so there's almost too much emphasis on getting capital.

Mike Butcher: [00:07:50] You need that person to stare you in the whites of their eyes as it were.

Qasar Younis: [00:07:53] Yeah. It's like, "oh this is like the business is not going well." You know, I was just talking about this right outside. But, I just finished this book, 'Into Thin Air', earlier this year. It's about this failed Everest climb in 1996, or this calamity. Bunch of people die on Everest in 1996 and it's the author talking about it. And on his descent he meets a climber who clearly doesn't know — you know, they've lost oxygen — they clearly don't know where they're at. And he has to make this decision, like am I gonna... Are both of us going to die, or is one of us going to live? And so you meet folks in the startup ecosystem who are on the side of the mountain who are completely deluded don't know up and down and that's what a lot of money gets you: it gets you like these long runways with people — with businesses — that might — are kind of in zombie state. And so just raising capital is not enough. I think that's what's unique about the Valley. You know, a couple of years ago, I had a talk in Europe and the first question was, you know, you're very pro Silicon Valley, do you believe that? My views are slightly changing. I think it is so expensive in the Valley that it does make sense maybe to start a company in L.A. or Portland or Seattle or maybe New York. But...

Mike Butcher: [00:09:07] Well, it's Like a conversation I had in the Valley 10 years ago, and I said: "why don't you invest in London?" And he says, "well, I've got... I've got a company in Berkeley, but that's 30 miles away."

Qasar Younis: [00:09:17] Yeah, exactly. And that's the adage, like you don't want to invest in something you can't drive to. You're putting five million dollars into something, and if you can't see where that money is being used, that's a little scary. So that's just practical. But I can tell you just from my own third startup, I can build it wherever I want. Why am I building in the Valley? It's like, I think the increment, like is expensive, but there's enough, like, sophistication.

Mike Butcher: [00:09:44] Potential upside.

Qasar Younis: [00:09:48] And it's this weird word, sophistication, I don't know what that really means.

Mike Butcher: [00:09:48] But then, a lot of European entrepreneurs have built companies and then put a couple of founders or a founder into the Valley, keep the engineering in wherever the hell it is.

Qasar Younis: [00:09:58] Yeah...

Mike Butcher: [00:09:59] That seems to work.

Qasar Younis: [00:10:00] You know, I've funded companies like that. I've funded a bunch of European companies that have that model — we can go down this long list of like multi-office companies, um, super risky.

Mike Butcher: [00:10:08] Do you think that works well?

Qasar Younis: [00:10:10] Super risky.

Mike Butcher: [00:10:10] Or do you think the team should be in the Valley? Please don't say that.

Qasar Younis: [00:10:13] I can only tell you what I would do as a founder. I would not have a distributed team when we're young.

Mike Butcher: [00:10:21] Distributed team doesn't work.

Qasar Younis: [00:10:22] Yeah, I think, I think like two years into the company's history you can have it. And I think we will... We're an autonomous vehicle company. You know, we're building-

Mike Butcher: [00:10:28] Now wait a second. Let me just go, move back. Distributed team at the early stage, and then later get together, or early together?

Qasar Younis: [00:10:37] Early together. There's something about 5, 8, 10, 20 people working together and setting a pace.

Mike Butcher: [00:10:43] Right.

Qasar Younis: [00:10:43] And like a rhythm. And then when you break out, it's like, they carry that music with them. You know they carry the, like...

Mike Butcher: [00:10:50] Culture.

Qasar Younis: [00:10:51] ... the Culture with them.

Mike Butcher: [00:10:52] Yes.

Qasar Younis: [00:10:52] Exactly. We're just basically talk about anything now. Like this has completely gone off the rails.

Mike Butcher: [00:10:58] It's interesting. I think a lot of people are interested in that view, because obviously I get asked time and time again, like, you know, can I build a company from Europe? And I'm like, obviously I'm in favor of that. But you know, you have different perspectives.

Qasar Younis: [00:11:13] So let's just get a little lower-level than there. I think you can build a great company in wherever — in London, in Barcelona, in Shanghai, wherever. Just know it's harder. So if you have a choice as a founder, you know, you might make the choice...

Mike Butcher: [00:11:34] I think your view is a little too Silicon Valley-centric.

Qasar Younis: [00:11:37] Yeah, oh, it is, definitely, it's not a little, it's definitely.

Mike Butcher: [00:11:39] I think that, let me unpack slightly what I think you're saying — is that, because you're so close to the biggest platforms in the world, Google, you know, Apple, you know — you'll bump into someone in a bar in San Francisco and they'll say listen, Facebook is about going to work on, you know, the Alexa-killer. And, you know, that's happening and you've got... basically, you've got a six-week lead time faster than would be if you were in Shanghai.

Qasar Younis: [00:12:08] Yeah that's, that's true. I would say given a different analogy, if you're — if you want to be an actor or an actress, you can be that in many cities in the world, but if you want to work on blockbusters, you've got to be in LA.

Mike Butcher: [00:12:20] Right.

Qasar Younis: [00:12:20] That's just the reality of the situation. And that's fine, not to work on blockbusters, you know, like the Tom Cruise movie is not what everyone needs to build. And you know, you can build great software companies everywhere. So I think that's the point, is, it's not a coincidence that there are so many of those big companies in the same area.

Mike Butcher: [00:12:38] What's it like being in YC?

Qasar Younis: [00:12:42] It's an amazing place. I mean, I think YC is very unique because it's kind of a factory, you know, and you know, funding 200-300 companies a year.

Mike Butcher: [00:12:49] Why do you think they developed into this enormous machine? How did they do it? What was the special sauce?

Qasar Younis: [00:12:58] I think everyone looks at YC in 2017 and tries to figure out why YC is successful, but you really got to look at YC in 2005 when it was started and why it was successful, 05 to for the first three or four years. I fall into that category of people who... So I had a company that YC funded in 2010. I Didn't join YC as a founder because I wanted to be part of YC; I joined it because I was a Paul Graham devotee. You know, I read and I consumed everything from Paul. And so, I remember going to the YC interview and just, like, shaking Paul's hand and thinking, like "wow, this is a real person." Like you know, you just keep reading and reading and it becomes like an abstract thing. And so those people, those founders in that '05 to '10 vintage — including, you know, companies like Stripe, companies like Dropbox and Reddit, and Airbnb and Twitch, and a lot of great companies that come out of YC. Those founders created great companies and that created their brand. And so people who go to YC in 2017 are different from the people who went in 2005. And that's not saying necessarily that people are less successful, they might be even more successful today than 2005, but if you're trying to replicate YC, you should look at the early days YC, right? And so.

Mike Butcher: [00:14:12] But you joined YC. You did your company Talkbin, that was sold to Google.

Qasar Younis: [00:14:19] Yeah.

Mike Butcher: [00:14:20] You joined Google for a bit.

Qasar Younis: [00:14:21] Yeah.

Mike Butcher: [00:14:21] What was it like being in Google?

Qasar Younis: [00:14:23] I mean, I feel like I'm saying everything is amazing. But like YC and Google both really were amazing experiences for me. I think Google continues...

Mike Butcher: [00:14:34] What was qualitatively interesting about being in Google? Do you think they're still the same company?

Qasar Younis: [00:14:37] I mean, I still have lots of friends at Google. My co-founder in this third company is a Googler or ex-Googler, as well. I think there's not a company in — maybe this is different in 2017, but certainly when I was there, the talent bar at Google is legitimately very, very high. Like, I don't want to make a qualitative statement, I don't want to make an absolute statement that it is better than Facebook or Snapchat or whatever, but it's incredibly high. And uh, when you work around people who are like the best in the world at the thing that they do, and there's like 30,000 of them, that's amazing. One of the things that people make the mistake about Google, that you know, I hear this and I always like to correct it, people are like, "Google is great because they had a great culture." No. Google is great because it has a fucking printing press of money, and that printing press allows you to employ — and like, I had individual engineers making millions of dollars on my team — and that gets you the best people.

Mike Butcher: [00:15:30] They're just millionaire engineers.

Qasar Younis: [00:15:32] Yeah, yeah, and that gets you the best people.

Mike Butcher: [00:15:37] So do you advise startups to concentrate on cash in that way?

Qasar Younis: [00:15:42] Yeah.

Mike Butcher: [00:15:42] Getting a cash machine together?

Qasar Younis: [00:15:44] 100 percent. I mean, this is something — the view held at YC, it's a view I hold with my third company, and I say this as a former... You know, still an angel investor, as an investor — it's bad to build a business that requires investors. Like I hate this, I hate the entire, I mean, the entire, like, you know... fandom around startups is really scary in a way.

Mike Butcher: [00:16:07] You mean the celebration about raising money-type thing?

Qasar Younis: [00:16:09] Yeah. It's like, do you see people celebrating, like, people starting coffee shops? It's, like, very similar actually, doing a small business and doing a startup, it's just like people are like, "oh my god this is amazing you're opening up a coffee shop." People are like, "No, good luck, this shit's gonna be hard." Like that's basically, like, "you're opening a restaurant? Good luck with that. That's going to be fucking awful." Like, that's what people say. Like with startups they're like, "oh my God, you must be amazing." It's like, no it's not. So I'm... I say, we're in the business of building businesses. And the best thing you do for your business is have cash flow, so you're not dependent on any external force.

Mike Butcher: [00:16:41] But obviously, you're an investor and, you know, you just talked about how Sand Hill Road is a huge concentration of capital. That's the machine, is it not?

Qasar Younis: [00:16:50] The ideal situation is, you find a business that pushes out cash, then you grow organically, or you can accelerate that growth with a large influx of outside capital. That's the ideal situation. When you have companies that are raising 50-100 million dollars and they're not making revenue, that's scary. That's super scary. And and I completely understand.

Mike Butcher: [00:17:12] There are a few like that?

Qasar Younis: [00:17:12] Yeah I can complete understand the Google example, right. Google is not making money until several years into his company. So that's the nuance we have- these general pithy one liners we say that just almost fall apart when you actually put into action. So generally speaking you want a cash flow business. But I will fund companies that are not making cash flow.

Mike Butcher: [00:17:34] Sam Altman asked you... We're running out of time and I've got so many more questions I want to ask you. Sam Altman asked you to join YC afterwards. And you... and he asked you to scale the organization. What did you think about, what strategy you put in to do that? Can you apply that to other things?

Qasar Younis: [00:17:51] Yeah, so YC was from 2005 to roughly 2013 was a family business. I mean it was Paul and Jessica's, you know, business, and they actually funded it themselves. And I think when a slew of partners, Sam being the leader, myself, a long group of people who came in — you know the first thing we needed to do was move the family business to an institution. And the institution is just things like, you know...

Mike Butcher: [00:18:16] Processes.

Qasar Younis: [00:18:18] Yeah, processes, and how to make sure the company can grow. And you know, YC was breaking a little bit in the sense of, we had more founders and partners to help, you know, the companies themselves. So just like figuring it out like the mechanics of how the business runs. But there's a really important lesson there, which is, you know, Paul has, there's a great essay, "Do Things That Don't Scale." YC scaled, and then kind of cleaned things up, and I think that, that's kind of the right order, rather than having a pristine process and then trying to scale that.

Mike Butcher: [00:18:45] You were also in charge of YC's affairs and events and also creating the theme of the founders' conference.

Qasar Younis: [00:18:52] I didn't create it, I helped, yeah.

Mike Butcher: [00:18:54] Helped to scale it. I mean diversity is a big issue at the moment. There's lots of sexual harassment cases going on and it's a big topic. What is your opinion about that right now?

Qasar Younis: [00:19:06] Yeah, I mean, I think it's a pretty fucked-up situation. I think that's, that's, that's...

Mike Butcher: [00:19:12] Did you think that that was happening for years and untold, unsung, or not talked about, or do you think that the recent recent revelations are sort of?

Qasar Younis: [00:19:25] At least from my perspective, I didn't see it, but I'm not a female founder.

Mike Butcher: [00:19:30] Right.

Qasar Younis: [00:19:30] So, you know, it's hard for me to project, like, what was the reality?

Mike Butcher: [00:19:34] Sure.

Qasar Younis: [00:19:35] But I think we at YC know it's a problem. Not sexual harassment specifically, but the fact that folks like female founders, or ethnically, you know, disenfranchised founders, like African-Americans, or even, frankly speaking, immigrants to some degree, which is kind of strange, right — immigrants are such a kind of core value of Silicon Valley — are kind of pushed out.

Mike Butcher: [00:19:57] Yeah.

Qasar Younis: [00:19:57] And so we actively try to — like look at things we did at YC — we would look at how many Latino founders applied and then how many got accepted to make sure that there isn't bias within the partnership as we're actually picking.

Mike Butcher: [00:20:09] You actually did put that — put a process in for that?

Qasar Younis: [00:20:10] Yes. Yes. Yeah exactly right. And we did that across the board. So, you know, I think generally speaking there's like a real capitalist motivation there which is like, there's, you know, half the population is women.

Mike Butcher: [00:20:25] Right.

Qasar Younis: [00:20:26] There's probably a lot of great companies made just to serve that user base. I mean we certainly fund companies to serve the upper 1 percent in Silicon Valley. So it seems like a logical thing to do. So, you know, I think, you know, it's both positive and it's like...

Mike Butcher: [00:20:42] Do you think YC and perhaps Silicon Valley generally is becoming a little bit more aware of itself perhaps more internationalistic?

Qasar Younis: [00:20:52] Yeah, yeah I think so. I mean, what's happening is, like, this was a cottage industry. People didn't know, like in 1996, who John Doerr or like Marc Andreessen is. Like now, like, you'll meet people who know who Marc Andreessen is, and that's kind of crazy. I mean, I was in West Africa last fall and over the driver's shoulder, you know, he's using WhatsApp and Google Maps. I worked on Google Maps for a bunch of years and I know the WhatsApp team really well and it's kind of mind-blowing that you can be, you know, halfway around the world and literally the products that you and your friends work on are in the hands and are being used by people... so the shadow of Silicon Valley now is just, it's just very broad. And so for the first time ever, people are looking back at the Valley and asking, "okay, you know, what is this thing doing. What are VCs? What are startups? And I think that's why you have some of this like, just, you know, like more of a spotlight on the Valley.

Mike Butcher: [00:21:48] Right.

Qasar Younis: [00:21:49] Because there's more influence.

Mike Butcher: [00:21:51] I'm going to throw in two quick questions to make sure we're efficient. What do you think are the big new platforms and big new emerging technologies that people should be working on in the next couple of years? Also, what are you working on?

Qasar Younis: [00:22:06] So I mean, I don't know what you should be working on as a founder. That's what's great about, you know, the capitalist system, right? If you look at Google — in 1998, two companies went public that were doing search and Google was founded that year. If you were giving advice to somebody in 1998, you know what you would say? "Don't fuckin' start a search engine because two just went public this year," right? So it's very hard to say what you should or should not be working on. So I would say, work on things that you as a founder perceive are real problems. I'm biased toward software because it scales better, but that doesn't mean that you can't do a restaurant or you can't do like a shoe company. There are a lot of great businesses out there. Software scales really well.

Mike Butcher: [00:22:50] Food delivery company.

Qasar Younis: [00:22:51] Yeah, so do what you think is a problem and that you have some special, like, background in or insight into. I think like that's important.

Mike Butcher: [00:23:04] What are you working on?

Qasar Younis: [00:23:04] So I'm doing an autonomous vehicle... So it's not, we haven't talked about it publicly yet, so I'll keep it pretty short.

Mike Butcher: [00:23:10] When will you?

Qasar Younis: [00:23:11] In the next few months. I mean it's not like... Yeah.

Mike Butcher: [00:23:16] Is it computer vision?

Qasar Younis: [00:23:16] No, no, no, no.

Mike Butcher: [00:23:17] It is ladar, lidar?

Qasar Younis: [00:23:20] No, no, we're not doing sensors. We're doing infrastructure, basically boring software stuff.

Mike Butcher: [00:23:24] Charging?

Qasar Younis: [00:23:25] No, no, no.

Mike Butcher: [00:23:25] Batteries?

Qasar Younis: [00:23:25] You're just going to keep saying things until I say yes.

Mike Butcher: [00:23:35] Have you met Musk?

Qasar Younis: [00:23:38] No, no. So I can tell you like, you know, the answer to the question: what should you work on? You know, I was an automotive engineer for seven years. I spent a bunch of years in Silicon Valley and I'm trying to fold those two.

Mike Butcher: [00:23:47] You were at GM, right?

Qasar Younis: [00:23:48] Yeah, exactly. so trying to fold those two things in. So when I talk to founders and say, you know, what should I work on? Work on something that you know. You know, at HBS they had this stat where it's like 70 percent of companies are founded by people from the industry that they're from. I think that's probably really accurate. That intuitively sounds correct. I think if you're a founder and you find yourself thinking, like, wouldn't it be cool- that's probably a bad company. Like that's not really a good thing.

Mike Butcher: [00:24:18] Wouldn't it be cool?

Qasar Younis: [00:24:18] Yeah, wouldn't it be cool. No, it wouldn't be cool. That's like, that's not how businesses are built. Businesses are built like, what does the market want and can I supply the market. But to give you a more, like, direct answer.

Mike Butcher: [00:24:26] Yeah.

Qasar Younis: [00:24:27] I think of emergent platforms... I mean, I went through this phase over the last six months, a year.

Mike Butcher: [00:24:32] Sort of looking at things.

Qasar Younis: [00:24:34] Yeah. From a founder perspective, I think the three that me and the team looked at deeply were — you know, obviously autonomous vehicles, that's where we ultimately worked on. We think that's going to really happen. I think there's a lot of talk about AR/VR, but I think the issue that we had as founders — I'm not talking as an investor — I was like, there's just not — I think there's like 100,000 people use VR a week in the world. Like, it's- the amount of people who are using VR is not a lot, which is a problem if you're trying to build an app, you know, either — we're getting really into the weeds — but if you're starting a company, you should either work on the platform or the application; in my mind. The platform or the application layer. The platform you can kind of emerge to have like that scenario where, you know, you can actually own, or Android or iOS. Or you wait and the platform is adopted enough, and then you work in the application layer. So if you look, there's a bunch of apps that started...

Mike Butcher: [00:25:26] And then sometimes... Oh, sorry to interupt.

Qasar Younis: [00:25:28] Yeah.

Mike Butcher: [00:25:28] Carry on.

Qasar Younis: [00:25:29] Yeah, I think if you look at like iOS and Android in '07, '08, '09, '10, you have a bunch of apps that start. But it's not a coincidence that WhatsApp, Snapchat, Uber, all these companies all start in a, like, 12-month window.

Mike Butcher: [00:25:42] Yeah.

Qasar Younis: [00:25:42] My assessment — I don't know if this is true, is. It takes a while for the platform to get established and then there's like a tipping point. And so when, you know, when Instagram comes, there were actually filtered photo apps before, like, Hipstamatic. Why don't we talk about Hipstamatic.

Mike Butcher: [00:25:58] Yes, exactly.

Qasar Younis: [00:26:00] It's because the platform has to essentially have matured to the point where when the Instagram founders are looking, they naturally think to build in social, because there's enough people who are using an iPhone in their group of friends. So there's like these really abstract things about how a platform emerges. So with VR/AR, like, we as founders are like, it seems a little early, like we could be six months to a year early and then it's literally someone could be doing the exact same thing, you know, six months later, could actually be the big company and we missed. So timing is really important. The third thing, platform, we looked at deeply wasn't crypto currencies — it was voice. Like voice is like getting to that magical moment of you have distribution through people's houses through Alexa and Google Gome and some other products and that the actual software that, you know, is doing some of the processing is now sufficiently sophisticated where you can build interesting applications. So that's what we looked at. When I look at investing, as an angel investor, when I was at YC, I don't think about those things. I look at the founder and I think, do you have an interesting insight? Do I think you're capable? And I'm writing seed-checks, so like after a while I'm like, hey, let's do this. Like it's not a real science. It's as much of an art.

Mike Butcher: [00:27:11] Would you agree sometimes that people don't build the platform first, they build the application first and then realize that they've come up the application for a potential platform?

Qasar Younis: [00:27:22] Yes.

Mike Butcher: [00:27:23] I mean in the way that, for instance, Facebook was designed to reunite you with your college friends and now all of a sudden, you know, 10 years later, we're logging in to other websites because of Facebook.

Qasar Younis: [00:27:34] Yeah. So… platform is such a bastardized word. What I mean by platform specifically is, I just mean, like, underlying infrastructure. So I'm talking about chipsets and databases and you know, that version of platform.

Mike Butcher: In the closing minutes, what were the greatest mistakes you made, what would you do again, re-do?

Qasar Younis: I’m happy where I’m at. It’s not like I’d fundamentally re-do something. But if I could, I would just probably spend… I’d try to do everything faster. So instead of doing three years at Google, I would do maybe two. I don’t know if I’d do less than two… instead of doing three years at YC, maybe doing two. Because I think, like, the thing I’m doing now, I hope is a large, cash-generating company. That’s the goal. I think, in my heart of hearts, I really am a founder, and I think the best test of that was, “oh, I could work at YC or as a venture capitalist for the rest of my life,” and that’s a great life. If you ever want career advice — if you can get a VC job, get it! It’s fantastic! Huge outcome, you don’t have to work that hard, and nobody fucking knows what they’re doing, so you can sound pretty smart. Like, it’s not that hard.

Mike Butcher: Fantastic. Everybody gets up and walks out of the room…

Qasar Younis: You hope that you catch one of the companies… you know, you put $15,000 into Snapchat and it kicks out a couple hundred million bucks. Like you hope you get that cheque in the right company. It’s a great lifestyle, but for me… I think, in my heart of hearts, my own identity, I didn’t see myself as a VC, and I think I saw. My dream, and maybe this is like… maybe I should have stopped while I’m ahead, you know, leave the chips, last company’s acquired by Google and leave it there, and just stay an investor…

Mike Butcher: Buy a nice house…

Qasar Younis: But this third one might prove that I was an idiot all along, but, you know, I can’t… I’m like a gambler who’s addicted. I just wanna take one more shot. And if I can build a great company, it’ll all be worth it. And if I can’t, then I’ll be a VC. Just call up YC, and be like “hey, remember me? Can I get a job again?”

Mike Butcher: “Help! It didn’t work!” Well, I think that was… fascinating to talk to you properly, and get some of your views on what’s going at the moment. Qasar Younis, thank you very much.


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