Startup Lesson #18: Construct archetypes

Richard Reis
Sep 26 · 4 min read
By Richard Reis

Recently, I started building an app, Gurgee. Every week I learn something new (this is a common feeling among founders). So I decided to share my weekly lessons in the hopes that (1) I don’t forget them and (2) they help you on your own journey.

In literature and mythology, an archetype is a recurrent symbol (usually a character).

For example, there’s the archetypal hero (usually powerful, usually brave, usually has a sidekick). A few examples that come to mind are Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker, and Batman.

Another example is the archetypal villain (usually powerful, usually evil, usually has a weird laugh). A few examples that come to mind are Voldemort, Palpatine, and the Joker.

Now, why is this useful?

Because if you were writing a story, it would be helpful to know the archetypes that have worked before.

Knowing that these archetypes were used in many different stories and resonated with many different people means that using them in your own story raises your odds of success.

Sidenote: If you enjoy learning about archetypes, no one has studied them more than Joseph Campbell. His book, “The Hero with a Thousand Faces,” shows the common themes across stories from different cultures and eras (whether ancient Greeks, native Americans, African folklore, or eskimos… You name it). Once you read it, you’ll see those themes in pretty much every movie, book, rock opera, etc… In fact, that book had a huge influence on George Lucas (and you see it all over Star Wars… No wonder Luke Skywalker resonated with so many people!).

“In the three decades since I discovered The Hero with a Thousand Faces, it has continued to fascinate and inspire me. Joseph Campbell peers through centuries and shows us that we are all connected by a basic need to hear stories and understand ourselves. As a book, it is wonderful to read; as illumination into the human condition, it is a revelation.”
George Lucas

How does this apply to startups?

I wasn’t sure which one of those two I should write about for this post. But then I realized, I could write about both! Specifically, how I constructed each.

Sidenote: I might still write about the “archetypal successful Product Hunt launch” or “archetypal successful YC Application.” But first I need to test them. If they work for me, I promise to share them with you :)

In fact, this is the way I plan everything.

When facing a challenge, the first thing I do is construct an archetype.

Remember when I said “no matter what problem you have, someone has probably already solved it. Find that person/ solution”?

Here’s some better news, there are probably many people who solved it!

Let’s look at a specific example: Gurgee’s Product Hunt launch.

I could have just looked for one person who had a successful launch and ask them for advice, right?

That’s not enough.

Their launch is not the same as mine! What if it was their logo that drew most of the attention? Or their value prop was pitch-perfect? I can’t replicate these things.

Instead, what I did was a Google search for “Product Hunt launch” and opened the first 10–15 links.

Then, I read each one (while taking notes).

Finally, I went back to my notes and tried to find the patterns of a successful Product Hunt launch.

I used those patterns to construct an “archetypal successful Product Hunt launch.”

These were the strategies that have worked for several different people, several different times.

Naturally, I’m testing the same strategies on my launch.

Does this mean it will definitely succeed? Not at all. But doing this greatly raises my odds.

“[Bill Gates] doesn’t read one book about something, he’ll read like, five books about something. […] The most amazing thing is, he almost always knows more than the other person he’s talking to about whatever it is. It’s unbelievable.” — Mike Slade

And that’s it for today!

See you next week.

Be well.


P.S.: Funnily enough, my most popular post on Medium was about my “archetypal successful problem-solving.” It also was a result of me studying successful problem-solvers.

P.P.S.: You see these archetypes being constructed everywhere. If you read Paul Graham’s essays, (which I have) you’ll notice he studied the most successful startups (he talks a lot about Google, Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft) to find the common threads (“build something people want”, “talk to your users”, etc…). Today, Y Combinator teaches those lessons to all their startups. The results speak for themselves.

Thanks for reading!😊If you enjoyed it, test how many times can you hit 👏 in 5 seconds. It’s great cardio for your fingers AND will help other people see the story.You can follow me on Twitter at @richardreeze to find out whenever others just like it come out.

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Richard Reis

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"I write this not for the many, but for you; each of us is enough of an audience for the other." - Epicurus

A network of business & tech podcasts designed to accelerate learning. Selected as “Best of 2018” by Apple.

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