What Startups are Really Like (Really!)

Paul Graham has issued another missive about startups called What Startups are Really Like.Obviously YMMV but based on my experience at StyleFeeder, he’s about 1/2 right, and 1/2 wrong, which is par for his course (the 1/2 right part usually redeems the 1/2 wrong part).

1. Be Careful with Cofounders

True. A piece of advice my dad gave me was that you should always try to avoid getting someone else involved if you can.

2. Startups Take Over Your Life

False. You can let it, you can also let a job at a billion dollar company take over your life. You can not let it take over your life. People at StyleFeeder have moved, had kids, done the normal “life” things.

3. It’s an Emotional Roller-coaster

False. You can let it be one, but you’re not really serving anyone’s interests if you are. You might succeed wildly, you might fail miserably. Your life could change for the better, but it’s only going to change for the worse if you’re dumb and you put yourself in that position.

4. It Can Be Fun


5. Persistence Is the Key

True, but this applies to life, not just startups.

6. Think Long-Term

True. Keep in mind that long term means profitable. No matter what’s in the bank if you’re not profitable you’re dying.

7. Lots of Little Things

True. Details matter. Alot. Spend the whole day shaving 10ms off your average response time. Spend a night picking out a font. Argue with your designer over ridiculous things nobody else will notice.

8. Start with Something Minimal

True. Note, this doesn’t mean you should put out unfinished crap and call it “Beta”. Just get it to the point where it’s useful and cohesive.

9. Engage Users


10. Change Your Idea

True. More accurately “be willing to change your idea”. Ideas are cheap and plentiful. I could keep a dozen people busy building things at StyleFeeder that are great ideas, but that’s not how we run things so we need to chart our course thoughtfully and constantly.

11. Don’t Worry about Competitors

False. Feel free to define your competition, but you need some or nobody will take you seriously. Then worry about them because they’re trying to take everything you have.

12. It’s Hard to Get Users

False. Users are easy to get, if you have something worth using. Probably not as many as you want, but that’s why they call it work.

13. Expect the Worst with Deals

False. Be realistic, not pessimistic. Most deals will suck, some will cost you money, some will work out, but without them, you’re likely dead.

14. Investors Are Clueless

False. They can be, but they can also provide valuable perspective.

15. You May Have to Play Games

True. You might, but you shouldn’t. If you’re weak on something, fix it or do something else. Don’t hide it.

16. Luck Is a Big Factor

True. Not everyone founds a company on the right side of a stock bubble and sells it for far more than it could ever be worth. Luck is also a reason not to be pessimistic about deals and opportunities.

17. The Value of Community

True. Overrated, but true.

18. You Get No Respect

False. I get the same or more respect as a key employee at a company trying to do something new than I did as a cog in the corporate world.

19. Things Change as You Grow

True, but if that’s surprising you probably shouldn’t be doing this.

“Unconsciously, everyone expects a startup to be like a job, and that explains most of the surprises.”

False. I’m actually surprised by how much like a job it is, just better.