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Do Things that Don't Scale

paulgraham.com

Taking off

Startups take off because the founders make them take off.

Generally, startups take a push to get them going. Once they are on the track, they will usually keep going, but there is a separate and robust process to get them on a roll.

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Nearly all startups have to recruit their users manually. You can't wait for users to come to you. You have to go out and get them.

  • At least one founder will have to spend a lot of time on sales and marketing. Don't succumb to shyness and laziness.
  • Even if numbers may seem smal...

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Almost all startups are vulnerable initially, like a newborn baby. It's harmless if know-it-alls dismiss your startup. Thinking "there's no way this tiny creature could even accomplish anything" is faulty thinking.

The danger is when you dismiss your startup yourself and fail to see ...

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Happy users

You should take exceptional measures to make your users happy. Your first users should feel that signing up with you was one of the best choices they ever made. Then think of new ways to delight them. You can provide a level of service no big company can.

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Your attention to your users should be insanely great, to the point of being obsessive. It is not only the product that should be that great but especially the experience of being your user.

For most successful startups, over-engaging with early users is a necessary part of the feedback loo...

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Focus on an intentionally narrow market. It's like keeping a fire contained at first to get it really hot before adding more logs.

  • Find out if there is a subset of the market in which you can get a critical mass of users quickly.
  • Build something for yourself and your friends, w...

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Assemble yourself

Hardware startups face a problem where they need a minimum order for a factory production run, but don't have the funds. Without a product, they can't generate the growth to raise the money to manufacture the product.

While crowdfunding, (pre-orders) can help a lot, it is advisable to assem...

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The initial user can act as if they are consultants. Keep tweaking till you fit their needs perfectly, and you'll generally find you've made something other users want too.

A consulting-like technique for recruiting initially indifferent users is to use your software on their behalf. It wil...

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An extreme variant is where you are your software, where you do by hand things that you plan to automate later. It helps to build muscle memory from doing it yourself. It also lets you launch faster.

If you can find someone with a problem that needs solving and you can solve it manually, do...

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  • The Big Launch seldom works. Most successful startups had small launches that are not memorable. Your success depends more on how happy you made your users than how many there were of them. Getting users are always a gradual process.
  • Partnerships with a big company seldom work. It is...

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The two directions

Think of startup ideas as:

  1. What you're going to build
  2. The unscalable thing(s) you're going to do initially to get the company going.

Try to be imaginative about them and work hard on them.

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Build something to solve your own problems, and then you only have to find your peers. Otherwise, you have to make a bigger effort to find the most promising vein of users.

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