Monday, April 9, 2007

Paul Graham on Startups

When I began this blog I made a deal with myself that I would not post more than once or twice a week, but lately I just can't help it. I could use the excuse that I'm on holidays, I suppose. It's the Orthodox Easter over here, and Greece is covered with a smell of roast lamb. It's a sunny weekend, people walk around at a snail's pace, birds singing, flowers blossoming, you know how it is. I just got inside for a minute to check on my e-mail (I know, I know) and I discovered pure gold: Paul Graham's essays have an RSS feed! I don't know how long it has been out there, but I just stumbled upon it, and man, did that made my day! That and the roast lamb, of course.

After subscribing, I found out there were a few recent essays that I had missed. The one I want to particularly mention is Why to Not Not Start a Startup. Since this is a topic I am very interested in, I read it without even blinking. That alone could explain the tears in my eyes, but there is more to it. I've been a Paul Graham fan for quite some time, even though I'm not into Lisp. His writing style is marvelous and his wealth of experience, invaluable. I would like to take this essay and stick it in the faces of various investors we've met over the years. Not that it would change anything, but it would make me feel better, at least. I had been planning to write about a few of his points myself, but since I could never hope to be so eloquent, go read them straight from The Man.

There were moments of discomfort, I must confess. Like when I read the following:

"If you don't think you're smart enough to start a startup doing something technically difficult, just write enterprise software. Enterprise software companies aren't technology companies, they're sales companies, and sales depends mostly on effort."
Ouch. I know it's true, but it always hurts to admit it.

There are other well-established observations in there, like the consulting-to-product business transformation:
"What you can do, if you have a family and want to start a startup, is start a consulting business you can then gradually turn into a product business. Empirically the chances of pulling that off seem very small. You're never going to produce Google this way. But at least you'll never be without an income."
The chances may be small indeed, but, hey, it worked for Joel.

Also on the well-known territory:
"In a good startup, you don't get told what to do very much. There may be one person whose job title is CEO, but till the company has about twelve people no one should be telling anyone what to do. That's too inefficient. Each person should just do what they need to without anyone telling them."
Yep, I can fondly remember why we started it all.


Dionysios G. Synodinos said...

Trying to apply “overseas business wisdom” in this micro-balkan-mediterranean market is like trying to apply the laws of Newton to a micro scale that fits quantum physics. I’m afraid that their rules, their paradigms, their dogmas, their success stories… do not pertain to this pond.

past said...

Heh, you know I'm as skeptical as the next guy, but I think you would agree that things are not just black and white. Newtonian physics are still physics and ponds are many times connected to the ocean through a myriad of rivers and underground canals.

Granted, not all of Graham's points are valid in our little corner of the planet, but many are. And some of the rest should become valid if we are to have any progress. See how many large corporation executives around here boast about their "overseas business wisdom".

The thing is you have to try to change the system, otherwise the system will change you. If Mohammad can't go to the mountain, let the mountain come to Mohammad. I think that's what Cameron Purdy also implied in his mellow and encouraging comment on my 'Envy' post. Check it out.

Anonymous said...

When I began this blog I made a deal with myself that I would not post more than once or twice a week, but lately I just can't help it.

Yeah me too (once a week). I thought "If I have 52 posts by the end of my blog year it'll be OK". Now they are 300+

To me this shows that if you "just can't help it" then you had stuff to write and it now comes out.

past said...

Yeah, I guess you are right. So I can now sit patiently and wait for the inevitable Blogger's Block :-)

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