Jon Phipps’ not-an-NSDL blog

May 3, 2006

The Hardest Lessons for Startups to Learn

Filed under: NSDL Registry, Personal — Jon Phipps @ 7:47 am

I find it useful to think of the grant-funded projects that I’m working on as if they were nascent startup companies. This helps me keep my head out of the typical “we’re only funded to do this research for 2 years and then we go do something else” mode and stay focused on what we really need to be doing — attracting and providing useful services to real users in a way that will keep them coming back for more — and the fact that life’s too short to just be messing around doing work that’s only ephemerally “interesting”.

In this light, Paul Graham has made a list of counterintuitive points he routinely shares with startups that’s well worth reading.

Here’s just the outline…

  1. Release Early
  2. Keep Pumping Out Features.
  3. Make Users Happy.
  4. Fear the Right Things.
  5. Commitment Is a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy.
  6. There Is Always Room.
  7. Don’t Get Your Hopes Up.
  8. Speed, not Money

And the salient point…

“So why do I spend so much time thinking about startups? I’ll tell you why. Economically, a startup is best seen not as a way to get rich, but as a way to work faster. You have to make a living, and a startup is a way to get that done quickly, instead of letting it drag on through your whole life.

We take it for granted most of the time, but human life is fairly miraculous. It is also palpably short. You’re given this marvelous thing, and then poof, it’s taken away. You can see why people invent gods to explain it. But even to people who don’t believe in gods, life commands respect. There are times in most of our lives when the days go by in a blur, and almost everyone has a sense, when this happens, of wasting something precious. As Ben Franklin said, if you love life, don’t waste time, because time is what life is made of.

So no, there’s nothing particularly grand about making money. That’s not what makes startups worth the trouble. What’s important about startups is the speed. By compressing the dull but necessary task of making a living into the smallest possible time, you show respect for life, and there is something grand about that.”

The Hardest Lessons for Startups to Learn.


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