In late 2014 something clicked in my head. It was a year in which I’d read a few books on starting a startup, and started entertaining thoughts of founding a startup. A year later, I quit my job and jumped full-time into working on a startup. One of the books that influenced me was Smart People Should Build Things . The book is written by Andrew Yang, who’s running for US President 2020. Yang wrote the book as a call to action for people to become entrepreneurs.
He is best known for having founded Venture for America, a nonprofit which sends new college graduates to smaller cities, to work on startups.
I haven’t been following his campaign closely but the book really struck a chord with me then. Revisiting my notes, now with a few years of startup experience under my belt, his arguments in the book make even more sense.
Academically brilliant people are unmotivated to determine direction.
The academic environment is highly structured — which classes to take and when, which majors, every problem has a definite solution, etc. Very few decisions are left to the student, their work is cut out — perform well on tests. But real life is full of ambiguity — what career path to take, how to get promoted, etc. Because academic life is so unlike real life, excelling in academics is not an indicator of how well one can navigate ambiguity in real life.
Some entrepreneurs are not very good joiners. They struggle to find roles they’re excited about in existing companies.
It’s less about creativity and intellect, and more about will and determination, and tenacity to take on multiple micro-issues in pursuit of the big goal.
Bad advice: “You don’t want to be in the army, you want to be an arms-dealer” i.e. your success won’t depend on someone else winning or losing. Rather be in the army, so you have skin in the game. Dream of going into the woods to slay the dragon, not selling another guy a sword.
Generate real value, build a strong team
The key is to get failures and lessons in as soon as possible so you can learn from them and recover.
Make the big mistakes early.
Not taking any money means not answering to anyone but yourself
In most environments, it’s a constant struggle to align management toward the long-term interests of the business. Investors want their money back in a particular time.
Think twice before seeking funding for your startup.
Don’t be fixated on billion dollar companies, but they operate in arenas in which there will be only one or two big winners. Do well within your space and find new ways to grow.
Unicorn startups are magnets for media and attention. Don’t let the noise around glamorous startups get to you. Narrow your focus to a specific market and do well in that.
If you have strong early hires it’s highly attractive to other talented and hardworking people.
How to attract good talent?
1. Hope that immediate income maximization is not the main driver. Can make money down the road.
2. Instinct toward value creation
3. Offer him prestige, training, network, a community and open doors to head in that direction.
Read Tony Hsieh’s Delivering Happiness on building a company culture
Even if you’re hiring someone to build your product, managing them to specifications is a huge task.
Any substantial work is possible only by motivated teams, so the act of building a company is mostly about organizing people.
1. Talk to everyone you know. More likely to experience serendipity
2. Relationships grow stronger and get stronger. Asking for help is a way to develop relationships.
For profit or non profit
For-profit companies the feedback is more direct, immediate and appropriately self reinforcing. Also harder to reward people within a nonprofit. People there have strong intrinsic motivation, so it’s a challenge to balance monetary reward with job satisfaction.
Cities tend to produce startups that are either solving local institutions problems or building on existing strengths.
Innovation and value creation can happen anywhere. Zappos in Las Vegas, Under Armor in Baltimore, Audible in Newark,NJ.
Zuckerberg said in 2011 that if he were starting now he’d stay in Boston. Silicon valley has a different set of strengths and defining institutions.
A startup can be thrive anywhere, doesn’t have to be in a startup hotspot.
Venture for America
Venture for America’s credo:
* My career is a choice that indicates my values
* There is no courage without risk
* I believe that actions are the proper measure of.one’s accomplishments
* I will create value for myself and others
* I will act with integrity in all things
The Dalai Lama, when asked what surprised him most about humanity : ” man, because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result of being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he’s never going to die., and then dies having never really lived.”
Startup job traits
1. Intellectual vs. Manual
2. Higher pay vs lower pay
3. Changing over time vs. Repetition
4. Broad development (evolving responsibilities) vs specialization and efficiency
5. Managing and teaching others vs operating individually
6. Autonomy and agency vs. Low discretion
7. People and services oriented orgs instead of institutions
8. Compensation for value vs. Compensation for time
10. Creative process vs. Established process
11. Long-term vs transactional relationships