50 Quotes from Paul Graham on Counterintuitive Parts of Startups, and How to Have Ideas

From How to Start a Startup — Lecture 3


From Stanford’s CS183B Course How to Start a Startup — Lecture 3

This collection of Paul Graham quotes are all from the third lecture. While there is great advice applicable to all startup enthusiasts, please note that this particular lecture was especially targeted to college students. To review quotes from any of the other lectures, please see the links at the bottom of this email or follow the collection. Also, please take a moment and Recommend the article at the bottom of the page if you found it useful.

The quotes below are all 140 characters or less, so please feel free to share as you see fit. In case I’ve missed any quotes or you find any errors, please leave me a comment and I will be sure to update the post.

  1. “Startups are very counterintuitive.”
  2. “Startups are as unnatural as skiing and there is a similar list of stuff you have to remember for startups.”
  3. “Startups are so weird, that if you follow your instincts they will lead you astray.”
  4. “When I was running YC, we used to joke, that our function was to tell founders things they would ignore.”
  5. “That’s the thing about counterintuitive ideas, they contradict your intuitions. So, they seem wrong.”
  6. “What YC is, is sort of like business ski instructors, except to go up slopes instead of down them….well, ideally.”
  7. “Work with people you genuinely like and respect, and that you have known long enough to be sure.”
  8. “There’s are a lot of people that are really good at seeming likeable for a while.”
  9. “What you need to succeed in a startup is not expertise in startups. What you need is expertise in your own users.”
  10. “Mark Zuckerberg did not succeed in Facebook because he was an expert in startups. He succeeded despite being a complete n00b at startups.”
  11. “I worry it’s not merely unnecessary for ppl to learn in detail about the mechanics of starting a startup but possibly somewhat dangerous”
  12. “Another of the characteristic mistakes of young founders starting startups, is to go through the motions of starting a startup.”
  13. “We saw this happen so often, people going through the motions of starting a startup, that we made up a name for it — playing house.”
  14. “Even in college classes, most of the work you do is as artificial as running laps.”
  15. On measuring people’s performance: “…they will inevitably exploit the difference to the degree that what you’re measuring is largely an artifact of the fakeness.”
  16. “The best way to convince investors is to start a startup that’s actually doing well, meaning growing fast & then simply tell investors so.”
  17. “Whenever you hear anybody talk about ‘growth hacks,’ just mentally translate it in your mind to ‘bullshit’ .”
  18. “The way to make your startup grow, is to make something users really love.”
  19. “Starting a startup is where gaming the system stops working. Gaming the system may continue to work if you go to work for a big company.”
  20. “In startups that does not work, there’s no boss to trick.”
  21. “They are like sharks. Sharks are too stupid to fool. You can’t like waive a red flag at a shark and fool it — it’s like meat or no meat.”
  22. “So you have to have something that people want, and you only prosper to the extent that you do.”
  23. “The dangerous thing is, that faking does work to some extent with investors.”
  24. “If you’re really good at knowing what you’re talking about, you can fool investors for 1 maybe 2 rounds of funding.”
  25. “Stop looking for the trick.”
  26. “There are tricks in startups as there are in any domain, but they are an order of magnitude less important than solving the real problem.”
  27. “There are parts of the world where gaming the system matters less than others, and some where it hardly matters at all.”
  28. “Startups are all consuming. If you start a startup, it will take over your life to a degree that you cannot imagine.”
  29. “The difficulty of being a successful startup founder is concealed from almost everyone who’s done it.”
  30. “It never gets any easier. The nature of the problems change.”
  31. “The total volume of worry never decreases, if anything, it increases.”
  32. “Starting a successful startup is similar to having kids, in that it’s like a button you press that changes your life irrevocably.”
  33. “What you need to know are the needs of your own users, and you can’t learn those until you actually start the company.”
  34. “Do not start a startup in college.”
  35. On Mark Zuckerberg — “Facebook is running him, as much as he’s running Facebook.”
  36. “While it can be really cool to be in the grip of some project you consider your life’s work, there are advantages to serendipity.”
  37. “Usually the way that startups take off is for the founders to make them take off, and its gratuitously stupid to do that at 20.”
  38. On starting a startup — “What if its too hard? What if you’re not up to this challenge? The answer is the 5th counterintuitive point — you can’t tell.”
  39. “What you’re trying to estimate is not what you are, but what you could become.”
  40. “They way to get startup ideas is not to try to think of startup ideas.”
  41. “Turn your brain into the type that has startup ideas unconsciously.”
  42. “One, learn a lot about things that matter. Two, work on problems that interest you and three, with people you like and respect.”
  43. “You don’t have to work on technology per se, so long as you work on things that stretch you.”
  44. “If you’re interested in genuinely interesting problems, gratifying your interest energetically is the best way to prepare for a startup.”
  45. “If you want to start a startup, what you should do in college is learn powerful things.”
  46. “If you have genuine intellectual curiosity, that’s what you’ll naturally tend to do if you just follow your own inclinations. “
  47. “The component of entrepreneurship that really matters is domain expertise.”
  48. “At it’s best, starting a startup is merely an ulterior motive for curiosity.”
  49. “You’ll do it best if you introduce the ulterior motive at the end of the process.”
  50. “Here is the ultimate advice for young, would be startup founders reduced to two words: just learn.”

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Image Credit: Paul Graham — By Dave Thomas

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