Thinking of a startup? 6 unusual pieces of advice


Y Combinator co-founder Paul Graham gave a 45-minute presentation to a class full of Stanford students, which he summed up in 4,000 words on his blog.

His main point: Startups are counterintuitive. If you want to start one, there are six unusual things you should realize about running a company.

“Startups are so weird that if you trust your instincts, you’ll make a lot of mistakes,” Graham writes.

Here are the main points he makes:

  • While you shouldn’t always trust your instincts about how to run a startup, you should trust your instincts when it comes to hiring people. “One of the most common mistakes young founders make is not to do that enough,” Graham says. If you feel someone is a jerk or your gut says something with someone is off, listen.
  • Don’t be an expert on startups, be an expert on users. Graham thinks learning too much about how startups are typically run can be dangerous, because it can make it tempting to “play house” and go through the motions of running a company (raising money, getting a big office, hiring lots of people) before you actually have a viable business. Graham points out that Mark Zuckerberg was not a startup expert when he started Facebook, he just knew the user base really well.
  • You can’t gamify a startup. While you may be able to get ahead in school or at a corporation by “gaming” the system or sucking up to a teacher or boss, there are no corners you can cut with a startup. “There is no boss to trick, only users,” says Graham. He warns that sometimes, investors can be tricked or gamed and they’ll give questionable startups cash. But this only wastes the founder’s time because if a business idea isn’t strong, it will fail anyway.
  • Startups take over your life more than you can possibly imagine. “Startups are all-consuming,” Graham writes. Startups are even difficult to run once they become big companies, like Google and Facebook.  Graham notes that Page has been running Google since he was 25 and probably still feels like he hasn’t had a chance to rest.
  • It’s almost impossible to tell if you’re the type of person who’s up for a startup before you try. “Starting a startup will change you a lot,” says Graham. “Ehat you’re trying to estimate is not just what type of person you are, but what you could grow into, and who can do that?”
  • Don’t try to think up a startup idea. “It’s how Apple, Yahoo, Google, and Facebook all got started,” Graham says. “None of these companies were even meant to be companies at first. They were all just side projects. The best startups almost have to start as side projects, because great ideas tend to be such outliers that your conscious mind would reject them as ideas for companies.”
  • His ultimate startup advice: learn everything you possibly can. “At its best, starting a startup is merely an ulterior motive for curiosity,” says Graham. “So here is the ultimate advice for young would-be startup founders, boiled down to two words: just learn.”

Source: Alyson Shontell, Business Insider

On Graham’s last point, see Wali’s LinkedIn post on Say goodbye to knowledge, welcome curiosity

See also: 

An entrepreneur’s guide to failure: The 9 killer mistakes

12 mistakes new entrepreneurs make

15 qualities of exceptional entrepreneurs

Richard Branson’s top 10 tips for success

Want to become rich? Here’s their belief system

The secrets to raising a tycoon child

Wali’s Will-Skill Matrix


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