Paul Graham published his latest essay this week. It takes the form of advice to college students about starting companies and as usual there’s lots of good stuff.
The section that stood out for me was this:
So this is the third counterintuitive thing to remember about startups: starting a startup is where gaming the system stops working. Gaming the system may continue to work if you go to work for a big company. Depending on how broken the company is, you can succeed by sucking up to the right people, giving the impression of productivity, and so on. But that doesn’t work with startups. There is no boss to trick, only users, and all users care about is whether your product does what they want. Startups are as impersonal as physics. You have to make something people want, and you prosper only to the extent you do.
Most everywhere else in life unscrupulous people can progress by gaming the system. People figure out how to pass exams with the least work, they lie on their CVs, they even cheat on their partners. PG’s point is that there’s is no analogy for this in startup-land. The one exception is that investors can be tricked – but that’s like a sugar rush – it feels good in the short term, but doesn’t help in the long run.
The slightly depressing news then, is that the only way to succeed in a startup is to work hard and do things thoroughly. PG also makes the point that it doesn’t get any easier as companies grow. That’s what he’s heard from all the most successful YC founders and what we’ve seen too.
So if you are founding a company, be prepared for the long haul. This topic is on my mind this week because we were in discussions with an entrepreneur who told us at the eleventh hour that after six months he wanted to drop back to a part time role in his startup. I’m glad he thought it through and told us, and that we didn’t do the deal and find out later, but it illustrates the point – founders should be prepared for up to a decade of hard work.