Startup Founders: Do Things that Don’t Scale

Re: Do Things that Don’t Scale by Paul Graham

 If you build something to solve your own problems, then you only have to find your peers, which is usually straightforward.

Perfectionism is often an excuse for procrastination, and in any case your initial model of users is always inaccurate, even if you’re one of them.

Sometimes the right unscalable trick is to focus on a deliberately narrow market. It’s like keeping a fire contained at first to get it really hot before adding more logs.

Sounds counter-intuitive doesn’t it? Well Paul Graham, big VC-investor, makes a solid point.

I listened to a podcast where Andrew Warner, the host, interviewed the founder of Reddit. Reddit’s founder Alexis Ohanian was quick to reply to customers, often giving T-shirts to users who reported a problem or had some complaint. Unknowingly he was cultivating a welcoming, friendly environment because of his own set of values and warm customer service.

AirBnb went to NYC to their user-base, and really got to know their customers by throwing parties, staying over at their property listings, interviewing, and listening to feedback. They were able to get people so-invested and so in-love with airbnb that they had grown a solid steady user-base because they made property-listers feel very important to the company at large.

And Graham points out that these big-reveal, all-or-nothing big launch dates, usually fail spectacularly. Thinking iteratively is the correct approach, one that is so pervasive in every single area of success – fitness, cooking, etc. – that a startup needs to understand this early.

I’ve definitely been so focused on perfectionism when I code or think of an idea for a website. And the undertone is always procrastination – Well if I justify that I need to fix this first, or do this, or optimize with some other technology, then it’s possible that i’ll never finish in a reasonable time! Airbnb and reddit were able to learn from users and refine their market/product according to feedback after every launch.

I particularly liked how he points out that Facebook targeted Harvard as it Niche, and it got crazy support because of how personalized it felt. Then the expansion was quite natural.

Graham offers many useful nuggets of wisdom here – Startup founders pay attention!

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