What Startups Are Really Like - Paul Graham

Paul Graham has posted a new "essay", entitled "What Startups Are Really Like". He aggregates feedback he's received from some YCombinator companies and created a list of 19 "surprises" people encountered when starting a company. I saw Paul discuss some aspects of this list a month or so ago at the fbFund offices and thought he had some great insight into startups.

His list (and some of my commentary):

  1. Be Careful with Cofounders
    Couldn’t agree more – it is like a marriage so choose wisely.
  2. Startups Take Over Your Life
    As much as you let them anyway; somewhat counter-intuitive, but I think the 37 Signals guys are onto something with their “do less” mantra. Working hard is a requirement, but don’t waste time on nonsense features.
  3. It’s an Emotional Roller-coaster
    Absolutely – the IPO process at iPrint and the Microsoft acquisition process at Messagecast had huge highs and lows. As did every round of venture we raised. It is really important to try and buffer the highs and lows by keeping some perspective.
  4. It Can Be Fun
    Why do a startup if it isn’t?
  5. Persistence Is the Key
    You have to be the biggest believer in your startup – if you aren’t who will be? If I had a nickel for every time someone told me that a bunch of companies had already done ‘x’ and we wouldn’t be successful…
  6. Think Long-Term
  7. Lots of Little Things
  8. Start with Something Minimal
    Especially in today’s world of constant iteration. I know a company that was run straight in the ground because they wouldn’t release until they could be better than a competitor that had released a year ahead of the them. They never did find that killer feature and actually ran out of money before they ever launched.
  9. Engage Users
  10. Change Your Idea
    Or put another way, evolve your idea – constantly. Strive to be a voracious consumer of feedback. Seek out what people think and pro-actively address. This really is a never ending task.
  11. Don’t Worry about Competitors
    Can’t say I really agree with this one; I think only the paranoid survive.
  12. It’s Hard to Get Users
  13. Expect the Worst with Deals
  14. Investors Are Clueless
    If you expect a venture capitalist to know how your product works down to a detailed level, you don't understand what it means to invest in a sector. No one will know more than you do about your product. It is in your best interest to seek out investors that can help move the ball forward, but be realistic in what you expect them to know.
  15. You May Have to Play Games
  16. Luck Is a Big Factor
    Maybe, but I wouldn't say Google, Yahoo, eBay or Facebook were "lucky". They were all smart, committed people that worked extremely hard. I can't think of any companies that were successful because they were "lucky".
  17. The Value of Community
  18. You Get No Respect
    Perhaps this is true on the East Coast, however, in Silicon Valley, I find it to be quite the opposite. Risk-taking is not that unusual as even the mainstream press reports on startups on a regular basis.
  19. Things Change as You Grow
    You will probably have a ton of hats to wear when things get rolling. If the company grows, you will want to/have to give up some of these hats as more people are hired and the responsibilities of each hat grow. Do yourself (and your co-founders) a favor and try to anticipate when you need to hand-off something; if you miss the signs it might be painful for everyone.