Seeing Different Problems

Paul Graham just wrote a great post called Startup = Growth.  Few would disagree with his premise — that the essence of a startup is fast growth.

Graham goes on to explain what I’d call the “YC Theory of Startup,” whereby a founder’s goal is to grow a certain percentage (say, 5%) per week, from the very outset.  I don’t ascribe to this theory.  The ability to grow very rapidly in the very early days does not correlate with strong sustained growth.  Achieving product-market fit in a very small market can sustain phenomenal very early growth. In the YC Startup approach, a founder would be satisfied in the early days of this scenario and would not feel a need to question the size of the market he or she is going after:

“If they decide to grow at 7% a week and they hit that number, they’re successful for that week. There’s nothing more they need to do. But if they don’t hit it, they’ve failed in the only thing that mattered, and should be correspondingly alarmed.”

Rather than focus on defining a problem, building a solution, and hitting a 5-7% growth rate by Demo Day, personally I’d rather find founders who are more likely to have very high impact.  Here is where Graham has some great wisdom:

“Usually successful startups happen because the founders are sufficiently different from other people that ideas few others can see seem obvious to them. Perhaps later they step back and notice they’ve found an idea in everyone else’s blind spot, and from that point make a deliberate effort to stay there. But at the moment when successful startups get started, much of the innovation is unconscious….What’s different about successful founders is that they can see different problems.”

For me, this is the takeaway from Graham’s post — the founders you want to back are ones who can see different problems.


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