Thursday, November 12, 2009

The reality of doing a startup

Paul Graham has a fantastic article up, "What Startups Are Really Like", with the results of what happened when he asked all the founders of the Y Combinator startups "what surprised them about starting a startup."

A brief excerpt summarizing the findings:
Unconsciously, everyone expects a startup to be like a job, and that explains most of the surprises. It explains why people are surprised how carefully you have to choose cofounders and how hard you have to work to maintain your relationship. You don't have to do that with coworkers. It explains why the ups and downs are surprisingly extreme. In a job there is much more damping. But it also explains why the good times are surprisingly good: most people can't imagine such freedom. As you go down the list, almost all the surprises are surprising in how much a startup differs from a job.
There are 19 surprises listed in the essay. Below are excerpts from some of them:
Be careful who you pick as a cofounder ... [and] work hard to maintain your relationship.

Startups take over your life ... [You will spend] every waking moment either working or thinking about [your] startup.

It's an emotional roller-coaster ... How low the lows can be ... [though] it can be fun ... [But] starting a startup is fun the way a survivalist training course would be fun, if you're into that sort of thing. Which is to say, not at all, if you're not.

Persistence is the key .... [but] mere determination, without flexibility ... may get you nothing.

You have to do lots of different things ... It's much more of a grind than glamorous.

When you let customers tell you what they're after, they will often reveal amazing details about what they find valuable as well what they're willing to pay for.

You can never tell what will work. You just have to do whatever seems best at each point.

Expect the worst with deals ... Deals fall through.

The degree to which feigning certitude impressed investors .... A lot of what startup founders do is just posturing. It works.

How much of a role luck plays and how much is outside of [your] control ... Having skill is valuable. So is being determined as all hell. But being lucky is the critical ingredient ... Founders who succeed quickly don't usually realize how lucky they were.
Definitely worth reading the entire article if you are at all considering a startup.

For my personal take on some surprises I hit, please see my earlier post on Starting Findory.


jeremy said...

The degree to which feigning certitude impressed investors .... A lot of what startup founders do is just posturing. It works.

I wonder how much of that is true even for big companies. For example, I think of the common MS strategy during the 90s around vaporware. Just the mere hint of moving into various markets, the slightest of posturing, was enough to establish dominance (or the popular perception of dominance).

Greg Linden said...

I think big companies have entire departments devoted to feigning certitude and posturing. Isn't that what sales and marketing are?