How to Succeed with a Startup - Sam Altman

Oct 13, 2018 00:00 · 492 words · 3 minute read Startup School 2018

These are my notes from Sam Altman’s lecture on “How to Succeed with a Startup”. An entry of my Startup School series where I follow the curriculum in Y-Combinator’s Startup School

80% of the work of a successful startup is making your product so good, people tell their friends about it. Think about all the great products you use, google, facebook, etc. You probably found about it because your friend told you about it. This is the most important thing to take away.

Find a real trend vs a fake trend

A real trend is something that will actually happen. A fake trend is something that isn’t, or at least not yet. A real trend is when early adopters use the product obsessively. For example the when the iPhone came out, it only sold a million units, so some competitors didn’t take it seriously. But the people who did get one were obsessed with it. A fake trend right now is VR. It might be big someday. But right now, everyone who’s bought one rarely uses it.

The people you want on your team

  • Someone who can infect with enthusiasm with what you’re trying to do - It’s hard to build a team without one.
  • Optimists - the whole world will be telling you why you’ll fail. If you don’t have that attitude/spirit that you’ll figure it out, it’ll be hard to succeed.
  • Idea generators - you don’t want to many of these people, because it’s too many ideas you can follow throw on. But you need people who can just keep pumping out ideas, even if most of them are bad.
  • “we’ll figure it out” - even if I’m not qualified on paper, even if I haven’t solved this kind of problem before. This spirit of we’ll figure it out is important.
  • “I’ve got it” - you want people who just step up and do it. Not people who say “it’s not my department”.
  • Bias towards doing - people who will move without as much data as they want.

Another important key for startups. If you have momentum, people can deliver results beyond what they think they’re capable of. Once you lose that momentum, it’s done. Focus on never losing momentum.

Advantages of a Startup

One No vs One Yes - if you have an idea at a big company. you need a yes from your boss all the way up to maybe the CEO. One no will kill your idea. For startups, if you have an idea, you only need one yes from the thousands of investors. You only need one yes.

Platform shifts - successful come in clusters. When apps became a thing, there were lots of successful companies. A startup can wake up one morning, say wow, things are fundamentally different to day than yesterday. And they can act on it. A large company is slower to act on these.


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