What startup founders should not be learning

Starting a startup is not as daunting as it sounds. The key to building a successful startup is to learn. I read a Paul Graham essay a while back on what founders should not be learning about building a startup where I picked up a few things I thought to share. Everyone wants to build a startup, but a startup is not the new and fancy logo or cool office space. A founder’s primary job is to make something people want. Founders should initially be learning about their users.

Startup founders often make the mistake of looking for tricks for growing fast or quick growth hacks. As a startup founder, your focus should not be on raising funds first because apparently, what investors look out for is a company that is actually growing + successful. Growth hacks may work for a while but unless you make something that people really love and will always want, the startup will fail. The sure way to make your startup grow is to make something that users really love and then tell them about it.

The first startup idea you come up with is probably not your best idea. The best ideas come from solving problems for yourself or community. Build your brain to be able to conceive startup ideas consciously; then start it as a side project. The very best ideas almost have to start as side projects as your conscious mind never conceives them as a company. Some of the best companies today started as side projects: Yahoo, Google, Airbnb, Slack + Apple.

None of these companies realised that they were becoming giant companies at the time. Slack started out as an in-house messaging platform to replace emails and Airbnb started out as a way to earn a bit of extra money to make rent so they could focus on building their main company. They may not have realised that these were startup ideas but they were things that ought to exist. You have to train your mind into one that conceives side projects. To do that, you need to learn about things that matter, solve problems that interest you or your community, work with people you like and respect (you can find your co-founder this way too) and live in the future - enjoying working on things that stretch you.

One category that really matters in startups is domain expertise. Find something that you are really interested in and in no time - you will become an expert in it. Larry Page is an expert on SEARCH not because he wanted to become co-founder of Google but because he was genuinely interested in it. At its best, starting a startup is merely an ulterior motive to learn more. You will do it best if you will introduce the ulterior motive at the end of the process.

The ultimate advice for a startup founder would be to just learn.