KHOI | Blog

Before the Startup

Fri, Feb 24, 2023 · 4 min read
Table of contents

Paul Graham’s Before the Startup

1. Counterintuitive

Startups are so weird that if you trust your instincts, you’ll make a lot of mistakes. If you know nothing more than this, you may at least pause before making them.

You can, however, trust your instincts about people. And in fact one of the most common mistakes young founders make is not to do that enough. If you’re thinking about getting involved with someone — as a cofounder, an employee, an investor, or an acquirer — and you have misgivings about them, trust your gut. If someone seems slippery, or bogus, or a jerk, don’t ignore it.

2. Expertise

It’s not that important to know a lot about startups. The way to succeed in a startup is not to be an expert on startups, but to be an expert on your users and the problem you’re solving for them.

3. Game

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.

4. All-Consuming

Startups are all-consuming. If you start a startup, it will take over your life to a degree you cannot imagine. And if your startup succeeds, it will take over your life for a long time: for several years at the very least, maybe for a decade, maybe for the rest of your working life.

5. Try

Starting a startup will change you a lot. So what you’re trying to estimate is not just what you are, but what you could grow into.

6. Ideas

So if you want to start a startup one day, what should you do in college? There are only two things you need initially: an idea and cofounders. And the m.o. for getting both is the same. Which leads to our sixth and last counterintuitive point: that the way to get startup ideas is not to try to think of startup ideas.

How do you turn your mind into the type that startup ideas form unconsciously?

  1. Learn a lot about things that matter.
  2. Work on problems that interest you with people you like and respect.
  3. Incidentally, is how you get cofounders at the same time as the idea.