Notes from Future Founder's track
Here are some notes that I've taken down from the future founder's track by YC. Hope they'll be useful to you as they are to me.
Why to not not start a startup #
TLDR: What are some common reasons for not wanting to start a startup and why some of these reasons don't necessarily make the most sense.
Too young #
Age doesn't necessarily correlate to maturity. A simple test would be to see how one reacts to a challenge. Do they immediately dismiss it as a stupid idea or do they probe deeper to understand why.
Too inexperienced #
The best way to get experience running a startup is to start a startup. Getting a normal job for a few years might turn you into someone that cannot move forward without being told.
Not determined enough #
If you sufficiently driven to work on your own projects, you are probably determined enough.
Not smart enough #
If you're smart enough to worry about not being smart enough to start a startup, you're probably are.
Knows nothing about business #
The initial focus is on the product. It must be something that people want, not something you think people want. Don't worry about making money, that's the easy part.
No cofounder #
A good cofounder is very important. Single founder startups are very tough. The older you grow, the harder it is to find a cofounder within your circle so start early! Young people have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
No idea #
Many startups pivot from their original idea to find product market fit. It also helps if you're good at making things. Find something that's missing in your own life and supply that need no matter how specific to you it seems.
No room for more startups #
Why would there be a limit for something valuable? If what you want to do will solve the need for a group of people better than any solution out there, you have a startup idea.
Family to support #
You shouldn't start a startup if you have a family unless you have the financial runway. If you really want to do it, start a consulting business on the side and turn that into a product business. Best to start when you're young and have no commitments.
Independently wealthy #
Startups are stressful so why do it if you don't need the money? There are many more interesting people doing regular jobs to pay the bills so if you want them as colleagues, you'll have to work at something that pays the bill even if you don't need to.
Not ready for commitment #
A successful startup is going to take at least 3-4 years. If you're not ready for commitment at that scale, don't do it.
Need for structure #
If you need people to tell you what to do, don't start a startup. A startup requires people to know what to do without someone else telling them what to do. Think of it as a soccer team. If you get angry when someone says you're not independent enough, you probably don't need someone to tell you what to do.\
Fear of uncertainty #
If you start a startup, it will probably fail. There is no uncertainty. Hope for the best but expect the worst. It'll still be one hell of a ride, you'll learn a lot and in the best case, you become rich.
Don't realise what you're avoiding #
Some people start startups because they know the regular job sucks.
Parents want you to be a doctor #
Parents are generally more conservative for you. They want you to be a doctor not because you save lifes but because it is a prestigeous job that pays well. There's still a correlation between risk and reward.
A job is the default #
Defaults are powerful but without people straying from the norm, we will never make progress. Startups are a rare historic shift in the way wealth is created.
Before the startup #
TLDR: A list of things to remember if you want to prepare yourself to start a startup.
If you trust your instincts, you'll probably make a lot of mistakes. It is natural to immediately dismiss counterintuitive ideas but it is not always a good idea.
When it comes to people, it is okay to rely on your instincts. A lot of founders don't do that enough. Work with people you genuinely like and you've known long enough to be sure
The way to succeed in a startup is to be an expert on your users and the problem that you are solving for them. A lot of young founders go through the motions of startup a startup instead of actually making what people want.
Gaming the system #
We've been trained to find shortcuts to win this game called school since that's what we did growing up. Things that don't actually matter. There's no shortcut, the only way is to make something people want. It really is that simple.
A startup will take time, a few years perhaps. A successful startup will take even more time, maybe even up to a decade. Starting a startup is really hard and it never gets easier.
Young successful founders will never get to do the things regular people do but likewise, regular people will never get to do what they do.
How can you tell if you're up for this challenge? You don't know. Most of our lives thus far has been pretty smooth sailing. It's nothing like running a startup.
Don't assume that your startup is going to be successful because you've managed to ace every (few, artificial, easy) tests you've had in life so far.
The way to get a startup idea is not to try think of startup ideas. The best startup ideas are the ones you wont even realise they're potential startup ideas to begin with.
Learn a lot about things that matter, work on problems that interest you and with people you like and respect. This is also how you get cofounders at the same time as the idea. If you get yourself to the forefront of some technology, you will live in the future. Ideas that others think are prescient will be obvious to you because you know what ought to exist.
How to get startup ideas by. Jared Friedman #
Startup ideas are subtle. Certain kinds of ideas and certain ways of generating ideas are more likely to succeed than others.
Common mistakes when generating startup ideas #
- Believing you need an amazing idea
Google and facebook were not the first idea. What made them successful were a good enough initial idea combined with great execution.
- Jumping into an idea without evaluating if it's a good one
If your startup is successful, you'll spend years of your life working on it so wouldn't it make sense to spend a couple of weeks to decide what to work on. Think of your initial as a good enough starting point. Good starting points can be tweaked into a good idea. Bad starting points may not necessarily be salvagable i.e. starting over completely.
- Starting with a solution instead of a problem
For example, uber for plumbers. This is a solution, what problem does it solve? Maybe it's hard to find plumbers? If you come up with ideas like this, this is a solution instead of a problem. This is known as a solution in search of a problem.
- Believing that startup ideas are hard to find
There are many problems in the world, the reason you find it hard to find ideas is because you haven't learnt to notice them.
How to evaluate startup ideas #
- How big is this idea? How big could it be? (1-10)
Looking for existing companies that do something similar. It can be small today but it might be very big in the future.
- Founder / market fit (1-10)
Are the founders expert in what they're doing?
- How sure are you that this is solving an acute problem? (1-10)
Ideally, you have personally experienced this problem.
- Have a new insight? (1-10)
Is there something that you know that others do not know? Maybe something that, on first glance, doesn't sound like a good idea e.g. letting strangers stay in your house for a short period of time but you actually have data to prove that the contradiction is true instead.
Other signs that your ideas might be good #
- You're making something you personally want.
- It only recently became possible.
- Successful companies that do something similar.
What are filters? #
Filters are bad reasons to reject startup ideas. You need to learn these filters and turn it off.
- Hard to get started
Stripe was a very obvious idea yet so many programmers didn't want to deal with learning all the hard stuff that came with credit card payments.
- Boring space
Boring doesn't mean bad idea. In fact, a lot of important things are boring e.g. writing good documentation.
- Seems too ambitious
It is usually the most ambitious ideas that turn into valuable companies. Don't shy away from it simply because it's too ambitious.
- Too many competitors
Better to err on the side on products with competitors. Usually no competitors indicate that there is no demand for this product. Find a market where there are existing competitors but you noticed something that they didn't.
How to generate startup ideas #
Sitting down and thinking about it is not necessarily the best way to come up with ideas. Try and notice them organically instead but in order to notice them, you need to first know how to recognise them. Working at the forefront of some field lets you see startup ideas before others.
- Start with what your team is especially good at. Think of ideas that you have an unfair advantage at execution. Any ideas that are generated this way have founder / market fit.
- Think of things that you wish someone else would build for you.
- What would you be excited to work on for 10 years even if you didn't succeed. This can also lead founders astray because it might be something the founders are very passionate about but might not have a clear path to being a big business.
- Look for things in the world might have changed recently e.g. new technology, new regulation, new problem etc. What are waves you can ride?
- Find companies that have been successful recently and look for new variants of them. Note that these ideas are usually solutions e.g. uber for X. You need to think critically if the idea actually solves a problem.
- Ask people you know for problems they want solved
- Look for industries that seem broken. You need to know a lot about the industry you want to disrupt.
How to get startup ideas by. Paul Graham #
The best startup ideas are solutions to problems that you have.
These ideas have 3 things in common: it's something the founders want, it's something they can build, it's something that few realise are worth doing.
Working on a problem that you have is good because it ensures that the problem really exists.
When the startup launches, there must be some users who really need it, not just people who could see themselves using it in the future.
There are 4 types of ideas:
- something a small number of people want a small amount (doesn't make sense)
- something a small number of people want a large amount (focus on this!)
- something a large number of people want a small amount
- something a large number of people want a large amount (usually already exists)
A good idea to work on is a solution to a very painful problem that people will use it even if it's a crappy version made by a two-person startup they have never heard of.
Being at the leading edge of a field doesn't mean you have to push it, you can also be a user of it.
Being able to put together an MVP is a substantial advantage over founders who cannot code.
You need to train your mind to be able to notice these ideas e.g. question things that you take for granted / don't normally think about. Note that this also takes time so don't rush it.
Pay particular attention to things that annoy you.
It's weird because coming with startup ideas is about seeing the obvious but it's hard to see the obvious if you haven't seen them.
This is why a frontal attack i.e. sitting down and thinking of ideas may not necessarily be the best one.
Work on hard problems driven mainly by curiosity and always be on the look out for gaps an anonmalies.
Working on multiple domains is a particularly fruitful source of ideas. You might be able to see problems that software can solve.
Don't feel like you have to build things that will become startups, that's premature optimisation. Just build toys that you think are cool.
Worrying that you're late is one of the signs of a good idea. A quick search on google will settle the question.
The success of a startup is usually more about your execution than it is about your competitors.
If you're uncertain, just ask the users.
A crowded market is actually a good sign, because it means both that there's demand and that none of the existing solutions are good enough.
There's no such thing as a market that's obviously big with no competition. To succeed in a big market with competition, you need some kind of secret weapon e.g. Google. If not, find a market that is small but will turn out to be big e.g. Microsoft.
It is imperative that you turn off the schlep (too much work / tedious) filter.
Every sufficiently good ideas will have a lot of schlep.
The next best thing to an unmet need of your own is an unmet need of someone else. Talk to people!
One way to ensure you do a good job solving other people's problems is to make them your own e.g. if you want to solve a problem in the waitering in industry, be a waiter!
A good trick for bypassing the schlep and to some extent the unsexy filter is to ask what you wish someone else would build, so that you could use it, something that you would pay for right now?