Recently we realized that the YC alumni network is now so big that we could start to organize entire conferences where the audience and the speakers were all YC founders. There are now around 450 alumni, most of them still in the Bay Area, and some of the older startups are now quite formidable. We had the first conference last night, about SEO, and it it seems to have been a success.
The atmos at a conference where all the participants already have some connection to one another is much more productive. The speakers were completely open, because they knew they didn't have to worry about someone cherry picking quotes in a blog post to make them look bad. And the questions from the audience were much more focused. I learned a lot. In fact it was one of the most interesting conferences I've attended, and I'm not even interested in SEO.
(Did you know Google actually has more like 85% market share, as measured by referral traffic? A lot of searches on Yahoo and Bing are actually internal searches. Even more interesting is that Google doesn't try to correct the public perception that their share of the search market is lower. They're so dominant they'd rather seem smaller.)
The speakers included Ian Hogarth of Songkick
(S07), Jared Friedman of Scribd
(S06), Tony Wright of RescueTime
(W08), and one person who wasn't part of the alumni network: Rand Fishkin of SEOmoz
, whom Ian described as "the Jedi Master of SEO." When we were asking which of the alumni knew the most about SEO, a lot of people after recommending someone would add: "but Rand Fishkin is the guy you really want." So we asked Rand if he could come and were delighted to find he could. One thing I've learned from doing YC is to be able to recognize people who know what they're talking about, even when I don't understand the domain. Rand is a guy who knows what he's talking about.
He posted his presentation online: http://www.scribd.com/doc/27319437/SEO-for-Startups-YCombinator-February-2010
Since this worked so well we're going to organize more conferences. The next two will be about fundraising and acquistion-- two more topics where the experts know all kinds of interesting tricks, but will only talk candidly about them to people they trust.