daily articles for founders

How to start a startup  

As I mentioned earlier, I will be posting older articles for the Founder's Library.

This classic from Paul Graham is a must-read for startup founders, and very much deserves to be the first to receive the "Library treatment".

You need three things to create a successful startup: to start with good people, to make something customers actually want, and to spend as little money as possible. Most startups that fail do it because they fail at one of these. A startup that does all three will probably succeed.

Bearing in mind that Paul wrote this around the time when he started YCombinator, and so didn't have the vast amounts of experience watching over 200 startups grow, this is nevertheless an excellent pattern.

Starting with good people means to start with the right kind of obsessive, determined, smart people:

It means someone who takes their work a little too seriously; someone who does what they do so well that they pass right through professional and cross over into obsessive.

Building what customers want means getting something out and quickly iterating it based on customer feedback:

In a startup, your initial plans are almost certain to be wrong in some way, and your first priority should be to figure out where. The only way to do that is to try implementing them.

This, however, should come with the caveat that not all product problems are revealed by coding - nor is the quickest way to check off hypotheses always to build something. See this article, or most of the Lean Startup methodology.

Paul's final point is about spending as little as possible - both in terms of hiring, and in terms of other miscellaneous expenses like Aeron chairs. This fits in with the Lean Startup methodology which is popular today, although one update from Lean is that, once you reach profitable product/market fit, i.e. once you have built a process that takes in $1 at one end and turns it into $2 at the other end, then you should invest money into scaling that process to saturation.

More from the library:
Perils of founder fighting
Should you pay to pitch your startup?
How to sell your company
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