#275 Paul Graham

Episode Summary

What I learned from reading Paul Graham’s essays.

Episode Notes

What I learned from reading Paul Graham’s essays.


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[4:52] My father told me I could be whatever I wanted when I grew up, so long as I enjoyed it.

[5:49] Do what you love doesn't mean, do what you would like to do most this second.

[7:41] To be happy I think you have to be doing something you not only enjoy, but admire. You have to be able to say, at the end, wow, that's pretty cool.

[8:00] You should not worry about prestige. This is easy advice to give. It’s hard to follow.

[10:22] You have to make a conscious effort to keep your ideas about what you want from being contaminated by what seems possible.

[12:18] Whichever route you take, expect a struggle. Finding work you love is very difficult. Most people fail.

[16:46] How To Do What You Love by Paul Graham 

[16:34] What Doesn’t Seem Like Work by Paul Graham 

[17:16] If something that seems like work to other people doesn't seem like work to you, that's something you're well suited for.

[17:42] Michael Jordan said what looked like hard work to others was play to him. Michael Jordan: The Life by Roland Lazenby. (Founders #212) and Driven From Within by Michael Jordan and Mark Vancil. (Founders #213)

[20:53] How Not to Die by Paul Graham 

[23:00] All that matters is to survive. The rest is just words. — Charles de Gaulle by Julian Jackson (Founders #224)

[24:49] You have to assume that running a startup can be demoralizing. That is certainly true. I've been there, and that's why I've never done another startup.

[27:31] If a startup succeeds, you get millions of dollars, and you don't get that kind of money just by asking for it. You have to assume it takes some amount of pain.

[28:17] So I'll tell you now: bad shit is coming. It always is in a startup. The odds of getting from launch to liquidity without some kind of disaster happening are one in a thousand.

So don't get demoralized. When the disaster strikes, just say to yourself, ok, this was what Paul was talking about. What did he say to do? Oh, yeah. Don't give up.

[28:45] Why to Start a Startup in a Bad Economy by Paul Graham 

[30:23] If we've learned one thing from funding so many startups, it's that they succeed or fail based on the qualities of the founders.

[31:15] If you're worried about threats to the survival of your company, don't look for them in the news. Look in the mirror.

[34:10] The cheaper your company is to operate, the harder it is to kill.

[35:43] Relentlessly Resourceful by Paul Graham 

[35:43] I finally got being a good startup founder down to two words: relentlessly resourceful.

[37:20] If I were running a startup, this would be the phrase I'd tape to the mirror. "Make something people want" is the destination, but "Be relentlessly resourceful" is how you get there.

[37:40] The Anatomy of Determination by Paul Graham 

[37:45] David’s Notes: A Conversation with Paul Graham

[39:50] After a while determination starts to look like talent.

[42:12] Ambitious people are rare, so if everyone is mixed together randomly, as they tend to be early in people's lives, then the ambitious ones won't have many ambitious peers. When you take people like this and put them together with other ambitious people, they bloom like dying plants given water. Probably most ambitious people are starved for the sort of encouragement they'd get from ambitious peers, whatever their age.

[43:21] One of the best ways to help a society generally is to create events and institutions that bring ambitious people together. (Founders Podcast Conference?)

[45:21] What Startups Are Really Like by Paul Graham 

[49:00] The Entire History of Silicon Valley by John Coogan

[49:50] Meet You In Hell: Andrew Carnegie Henry Clay Frick, and the Bitter Partnership That Transformed America by Les Standiford. (Founders #73)

[55:08] You need persistence because everything takes longer than you expect. A lot of people (founders) were surprised by that.

[57:18] Estee Lauder was a master at doing things that don’t scale. Estée Lauder: A Success Storyby Estée Lauder. (Founders #217)

[58:45] What makes companies fail most of the time is poor execution by the founders. A lot of times founders are worried about competition. YC has founded 1900+ companies. 1 was killed by competitors. You have the same protection against competitors that light aircraft have against crashing into other light aircraft. Do you know what the protection is? Space is large.

[1:01:00] Paul on what he would do if he was strating a company today: 

If I were a 22 year starting a startup I would certainly apply to YC. Which is not that surprising, since it was designed to be what I wish I'd had when I did start one. But (assuming I got in) I would not get sucked into raising a huge amount on Demo Day.

I would raise maybe $500k, keep the company small for the first year, work closely with users to make something amazing, and otherwise stay off SV's radar.

Ideally I'd get to profitability on that initial $500k. Later I could raise more, if I felt like it. Or not. But it would be on my terms.

At every point in the company's growth, I'd keep the company as small as I could. I'd always want people to be surprised how few employees we had. Fewer employees = lower costs, and less need to turn into a manager.

When I say small, I mean small in employees, not revenues.

[1:05:07] Against The Odds: An Autobiography by James Dyson (Founders #200)

[1:07:00] A Word To The Resourceful by Paul Graham 

[1:08:07] We found the startups that did best were the ones with the sort of founders about whom we'd say "they can take care of themselves." The startups that do best are fire-and-forget in the sense that all you have to do is give them a lead, and they'll close it, whatever type of lead it is.

[1:09:00] Understanding all the implications of what someone tells you is a subset of resourcefulness. It's conversational resourcefulness.

[1:11:00] Do Things That Don’t Scale by Paul Graham 

[1:11:00] Startups take off because the founders make them take off.

[1:16:00] The question to ask about an early stage startup is not "is this company taking over the world?" but "how big could this company get if the founders did the right things?" And the right things often seem both laborious and inconsequential at the time.

[1:16:00] Hard Drive: Bill Gates and the Making of the Microsoft Empire by James Wallace and Jim Erickson (Founders #140)

[1:21:00] The world is complicated. It is noisy. We are not going to get a chance to get people to remember much about us. No company is. So we have to be really clear about what we want them to know about us. —Steve Jobs

[1:22:00] Any strategy that omits the effort is suspect.

[1:23:00] The need to do something unscalably laborious to get started is so nearly universal that it might be a good idea to stop thinking of startup ideas as scalars. Instead we should try thinking of them as pairs of what you're going to build, plus the unscalable thing(s) you're going to do initially to get the company going.

Now that there are two components you can try to be imaginative about the second as well as the first. Founders need to work hard in two dimensions.


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