I love reading Paul Graham. Heck, everyone loves reading Paul Graham’s writings on entrepreneurship and investing. The two best thing things about the Y-Combinator founder’s essays are: 1) They are intensely insightful – from his broad and deep understanding of the startup experience, and 2) They are indeed essays as opposed to the pithy, all-fluff-and-no-substance “5 things you need to know” posts that dominate the web – especially on the subject of entrepreneurship.
Below is a particularly insightful section from his recent “Do Things that Don’t Scale” essay:
Filed under the subheading, Fragile:
Almost all startups are fragile initially. And that’s one of the biggest things inexperienced founders and investors (and reporters and know-it-alls on forums) get wrong about them. They unconsciously judge larval startups by the standards of established ones. They’re like someone looking at a newborn baby and concluding “there’s no way this tiny creature could ever accomplish anything.”
It’s harmless if reporters and know-it-alls dismiss your startup. They always get things wrong. It’s even ok if investors dismiss your startup; they’ll change their minds when they see growth. The big danger is that you’ll dismiss your startup yourself. I’ve seen it happen. I often have to encourage founders who don’t see the full potential of what they’re building. Even Bill Gates made that mistake. He returned to Harvard for the fall semester after starting Microsoft. He didn’t stay long, but he wouldn’t have returned at all if he’d realized Microsoft was going to be even a fraction of the size it turned out to be.
The question to ask about an early stage startup is not “is this company taking over the world?” but “how big could this company get if the founders did the right things?” And the right things often seem both laborious and inconsequential at the time.
While this advice is informational and inspirational for entrepreneurs, it should be required reading for everyone who is not an entrepreneur: particularly those who are not entrepreneurs but come in contact with innovators, new companies and their founders.
Pass it on.