How to Start a Startup: Lecture 3 – Counterintuitive Parts of Startups, and How to Have Ideas


Instructor – Paul Graham

Startups are counter-intuitive. You cannot always trust your instinct. What you don’t need is expertise in startups. You don’t need to know all of the steps of a startup, raising capital, etc.

  • You should trust your instincts about people though. If something seems off about someone, but smart it, trust your instincts and don’t
  • Stop looking for tricks in startups – it is more important to make something that people love. Don’t try to ‘game’ the system.
  • If you start a startup, it will take over your life for more time than you can imagine.
    • It is like having kids, it can change your life irrevocably
  • What you need to know
    • The needs of your own users
    • Do not start a startup in college
      • 20 is not the optimal time to do this
      • Success takes a lot of the serendipity out of life
      • You are more likely to succeed later on
    • Should you do it at any age?
      • Is it too hard? It is hard to tell
      • Starting a startup is unlike anything you have ever done. If you are merely unsure of whether or not you want to do it the only way to find out is to try.
  • The way to get startup ideas is not to try to make startup ideas (you will think of ideas that are bad and plausible sounding)
    • What you should do is take a step back and try to set it into the unconscious level: side projects which normally get rejected as hobbies/toys/etc.
      • Work on things that interest you
      • Learn a lot about things that matter (doesn’t have to be technology)
      • With people that you respect (to get co-founders at the same time)
    • How do you know?
      • Real problems are interesting
      • Gratifying your interest energetically is the best way to set yourself up for finding these ideas
      • If you think of technology as a fractal stain, every point on the leading edge represents a problem
        •  Get yourself to the leading edge of technology
        • Ideas will seem obvious to you
      • The best thing to do in college is LEARN POWERFUL THINGS. If you have curiosity, you will follow those inclinations. You need to have domain expertise: Larry Page was the expert on search engines.
        • Summarized: Just Learn


How can a non-technical founder most contribute to a startup? A. if it is a purely technical startup, the co-founder should focus on sales. If it is a hybrid like Uber, they should focus on recruiting drivers or something like that while the programmer works on the app.

Is there any value in business school if you are interested in entrepreneurship? – No. you need to develop products, but frankly the best way to learn things is just to do them. Business school was made to train the officer corp for the corporate world.

Managing the first hires? Ideally you are successful before you make the first hires. When you do, the first hires should be as close to founders you can get. You shouldn’t have to manage them much.

What would you learn in college right now? Physics – because it is interesting to him. You should do things that are interesting to you.

What do you do to make yourself efficient? He gets things done 2 ways: doing essays comes naturally and he gets excited about it. Setting hard deadlines also helps a lot in his experience with Y Combinator and especially on things that you don’t want to do.

When is a good time to turn a side project into a startup?  You will know when it takes up an alarming portion of your life.

When a startup is growing slowing but not much? Read “do things that don’t scale” essay

What kind of startups should not go through YC? Not many – a lot of the problems startups have are the same

If you hire people you like you can create a mono-culture, what do you do with blind spots?  The benefits of hiring people you are friends with greatly outweighs any downside of hiring a mono-culture workforce. There will be much greater problems that arise and you will have to deal with them.



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