Random 4: Tim Ferriss and Kevin Rose on Y-Combinator, Language Learning and More


This pre-China trip includes the below:

– Personal experiences with Y-Combinator, demo days, and pitching new ideas through avenues like YC.

– Five things you can do as a new startup to get your ideas, app, or product in front of influencers.

– Tweaking your website: per-user metrics, cost per acquisition, lifetime value of the customer, etc..

– The iPhone 3GS, talking some about the new updates and then a short comparison with the Palm Pre.

– Learning new languages and reactivating old ones (in this case, Mandarin Chinese).

The above list is taken from Glenn McElhose’s blog, where you can also find links to all of the sites and products mentioned in the show.


Want to get Random episodes delivered to your iPhone or iPad? Now you can! Just subscribe to the podcast in iTunes (or get the audio-only version here).

Posted on: August 12, 2009.

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Comment Rules: Remember what Fonzie was like? Cool. That’s how we’re gonna be — cool. Critical is fine, but if you’re rude, we’ll delete your stuff. Please do not put your URL in the comment text and please use your PERSONAL name or initials and not your business name, as the latter comes off like spam. Have fun and thanks for adding to the conversation! (Thanks to Brian Oberkirch for the inspiration)

152 comments on “Random 4: Tim Ferriss and Kevin Rose on Y-Combinator, Language Learning and More

  1. Hi Tim & Kevin,

    Loved your post – I am very interested in the practical insights you give startups for structuring themselves – particularly in how to collect data.

    A few questions:

    1) I’m curious as active investors what level of involvement you have with your portfolio companies and how you encourage their teams to interact with you – will you tend to pop by once a week and keep things pretty systematic with the idea that it’s easier to keep things structured and disciplined that way, or would you rather they just pick up the phone if they’re stressed over something?

    2) Do you take any solely advisory stakes and if so how do you balance that – I have encountered advisors working on a style of ratchet where, if after a few months of working together the team are happy with your input, the advisor gains a chunk of equity (perhaps ~5%) and I have been considering running with this model myself.

    3) Any thoughts on what you guys look for in potential investments would be great – especially *beyond* the basics (e.g. business model, scalability, addressable market). When you hang out do you indulge in crystal-ball speculation and the like?

    Keep up the good work!



  2. Hi great stuff. I have some friends in the current batch of YC, and two other Aussie friends who were in the last one who I think you know, and I’m in another Silicon Valley incubator from TheFunded. I also know some guys in TechStars in Boulder and went along to their pitch day last week, and have posted a breakdown of their approach that I’d love to know how you think compares to YC’s demo day. This is a really interesting area and these incubators are having a definite positive impact.

    My breakdown of the TechStars method for pitching is here:


  3. So this is how uber-rich NM post.com millionaires goof off …. cool –

    You guys are a great example of how to make money while having fun – for anyone NOT doing this themselves, it’s really possible –

    Although maybe not at their level – you’re legendary –

    Good work – keep it up – ciao


  4. I’ve never spent so much time watching two people just shoot the shit. I can’t decide whether that a HUGE compliment to you guys or a sincere sign of desperation on my part.

    Maybe a little of both… either way, I couldn’t take my eyes off.


  5. Love these series!

    Can’t wait to see more, and more often. Disagree on the waste of time, insider tips from industry leaders, especially guys like this are rare and insightful. You hardly ever get to peek into chats like this, something that these two are very open about doing.

    Thanks Kevin and Tim


  6. Hey Tim,

    Thanks for delivering good stuff, as usual. A question for you. . .

    How much of an investment decision is pure “statistics” and likely return vs. “gut response” regarding the mission of the company (the good it contributes) and a subjective sense of the management capabilities of the principals?

    The first pitch has to “grab” in about 90 seconds. . . . The gut feeling on management skills probably has to be discerned after that.


  7. You guys are so cute! ^__^;;;; I really love these ‘random’ episodes, and always find myself laughing out loud when I watch them. You both have real chemistry together which makes ingesting the info you give a lot easier.

    Anyways, I really hope you keep up with these!! So much fun and extremely informative. :3

    Mr. Ferriss, I trust that your arm is doing better? I very much hope so. (I know what kind of syringe/needles you’re speaking of, and OUCH! So big and quite painful).


  8. Guys

    Nice work. I really like your initiative here.

    Tim – Let’s please chat about starting a company that is a competitor to Rosetta Stone. I can’t disclose a number of things on the blog, but let’s just say I would invest in you and I believe others would too.

    Please feel free to contact me.


    • Hi B,

      Thanks for your comment. I’m focusing on writing the book until end of the year, but please do reach out after that point if you still remember. I’ve been thinking about doing a business in language for ages.




  9. Tim, thank you for your guidance, it’s sage! I’ve been so busy practicing the four hour workweek, I have not made time to read your blog as I should. Question: What is the “pre-China trip?” Are you hosting a trip to China? I ask because I’m working on a product that is completely new to the Chinese marketplace and am looking for guidance on your web site.

    Before submitting this question, I used the google search to find the answer within your page, but was taken to google search results outside of your web site and couldn’t, quickly, find the answer. Which, leads me to a suggestion: A swift-search-your-site for dummies (coming from a fairly advance Internet user/researcher).

    Mrs. Jill Frost


  10. Tim, Kev, love watching this! Insightful, and funny at the same time. I feel like I should be taking notes. Really dig this sort of thing! Keep it up!

    – Cam


  11. Tim,

    I would argue with your assertion that the most efficient way to learn a foreign language is to translate from your native tongue to the new language. I majored in Japanese and everything, but it really wasn’t until I moved there and lived it, that I really learned to converse in it.

    I must admit, initially I probably did do quite a bit of translation, but then I gave that up. I learned a good part of what I know in Japanese, not by first learning it and then scrambling for the English to go with it. Now, when I speak Japanese I do zero translation. The times when I’m at the loss for a word or a concept, I find myself dropping back into English, but generally I generate Japanese without translation.

    My father-in-law developed a method of learning English for Russian speakers at his website http://www.language-bridge.com which relies solely on similar immersion where you are given a situation and then a story in the target language. You bind the words that go with situations which, he argues, will build a capacity where you don’t translate, you generate the new language.

    Many ways to skin a cat, I’m sure. I like your observation that printers usually skimp on learning materials to the detriment of the learner. Languages that rely on ideographs really can’t be learned without learning the context of the characters in the language.


  12. Some friends of mine from TechStars Boston are working on an app similar to what Kevin describes towards the end of this video. They take popular YouTube videos in various foreign languages (no Mandarin yet) and play them along with English translations. They also allow users to contribute better translations if the original machine translations are not accurate.

    I won’t link, but if you Google LangoLAB you can find them.


  13. I’m a bit surprised… The “show” is very efficient for you (shot in less than 1 hour). But for the viewer… Watching half an hour of (mostly) two guys talking (rambling?) is not a very efficient use of time for your audience.

    I suggest that you offer a transcript (I’m sure that it can be very cheaply delegated), maybe with a time code. I could read the transcript very quickly. If needed, it would be easy to jump to the interesting bits in the video.

    Offering Random as a podcast version would be a good idea too, to watch “as entertainment” while on the move, or while waiting.

    Unless there is an advantage to gluing your viewers for half an hour to their computer? If there is ads, I don’t see them, as they are filtered by Ad Block Plus…


  14. How come Glenn didn’t turn the camera on the cute girl in the cafe? I mean, he turns the camera on sasquash sitting next to Kevin and but not on the hottie?!!!

    Work with me here though fellas…each new episode of “Random” features a “random” hot girl from the location of the shoot…