Getting Started in Startups

I’ve been getting a few requests for resources on learning how to do big things, and this was originally an email I copied out to a lot of people, so I figure I may as well post it up here on my blog.

Why startups?

Before we get started, I want to say three things:

1. Software is everything, and is eating the world – even if you don’t see yourself as being in a software-driven industry, you are or soon will be.

2. Building small-scale things is easy, but building large scale projects that change things permanently is difficult bordering on impossible (not impossible, but *bordering on* it). That said, the payoff is enormous if you can scale something to a huge size. And by huge I don’t mean 100,000 – I mean 100,000,000 and beyond. Even something seemingly banal like Twitter has the capacity to help topple governments, not because of what it does but because of how many people use it. The real power is in the people.

3. Startups aren’t for everyone. This follows on from 2 above, but if all you want is pats on the back, publicity, awards, money or anything in between, there are much better routes to go down than building a startup.


Resources help, but they aren’t nearly enough to grow you into the kind of person with the mental toughness, personal discipline, skills and leadership qualities to see their ideas through to completion. The operative word in that sentence is ‘growing’ – even Steve Jobs took decades of hard work to change himself from the person who lazed about chasing girls and smoking weed to the guy who gave us the iPhone. These resources aren’t a substitute for hard won experience and discipline, but they will help you reflect on your mistakes and get better at getting stuff done.

– The Lean Startup

This book just came out as we released the first version of our product at my first startup. We all sat around in a room and read it and realised how many mistakes we could have avoided if we had just followed some of its basic methods. Best part is you can apply the method to any project, not just tech.

– Peter Thiel’s Notes

These notes are just amazing. They are a sort of short history of the web, a lecture on business, a portrait of the founder, and a vision of the future all rolled into one.

– Paul Graham Essays

Great essays on just about everything to do with building stuff. 

– The Innovator’s Dilemma

This book is required reading for all my employees, partners and collaborators. Even if you are not interested in getting deeper into technology, you should read this book. It is a big help in understanding how new entrants upend incumbents, and its lessons apply just as much to the media or not for profit industry as they do to hard drive manufacturers.

– Udacity

NB: Udacity was free when I wrote this but is now paid. I think it’s worth it if you have the money but otherwise try the Coursera/edX alternatives.

CS101 is a great intro programming course that you can take over the course of a summer to introduce you to programming. There’s also a version on MITx and Harvardx I believe that should do the trick as well, with those you get an MIT/Harvard certificate which is cooler. I did the Udacity version though and I can vouch for it – if you do the exercises you will learn a lot.

CS253 is a great course and there’s nothing out there on the web that compares. It’s taught by Reddit’s Steve Huffman. You can see from the course how he was able to create one of the internet’s biggest communities from his college dorm room.

– Startup Engineering

This is a course taught by Balaji Srinivasan at Stanford. Balaji is the CTO of Counsyl, a genomics company in the States that has produced a $100 genetic test for unborn children. Without endorsing the ethics of what Counsyl is doing, Balaji is a hugely capable entrepreneur. I haven’t taken this course because I learnt the material the hard way before it came out, but it looks like a great overview of how you go about actually building and growing a large technology company.

– Some Blog Posts by good Bloggers:

1. Fred Wilson’s Product > Strategy > Business Model (his whole blog is good)

2. Chris Dixon’s Six Strategies for overcoming the chicken and egg problem (likewise, everything on his blog is good)

3. Mark Suster’s Entrepreneurshit (another decent blog)

4. Ben Horowitz’s The Struggle (Ben’s blog is best out there, and his book is a must read for people starting anything big)

5. Albert Wenger’s Benefit Corporation: Facilitating a New Market (again, great blog)

I presume that in addition to this stuff, you will both have your own personal materials that you will use to decide what kind of change you want to make in the world. While the stuff above will help you make change, it is value-neutral so you’ll have to fill those gaps in yourself to decide what cause you want to put your time into.

Start with Lean Startup and the Thiel Notes + Blog posts, then get started on CS101. If you are still interested, read Innovator’s Dilemma then do CS253 followed by Startup Engineering.

Happy startupping, hope this is useful to you.


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