Global Entrepreneurship 2016 – Part 2: the microeconomic analysis of the Startup Playbook by Sam Altman

After Part1 about the global vision of Entrepreneurship in 2016, here is a “micro” analysis of what entrepreneurship is. I finished reading this report while on a transcontinental flight, where I watched recent movie The Martian with Matt Damon.

Not only is The Martian describing a story very similar to what being a CEO might be – lonely with a life and death situation (at least for the start-up) after each major decision, but that day, I also learnt the death of David Bowie. In that movie, you can listen to Starman… my humble tribute to a great artist.

Again Ycombinator produces an efficient and compelling document about start-ups and entrepreneurship. After Paul Graham’s blog and Sam Altman’s class at Stanford in 2014, here is his Startup Playbook. A short document “for people new to the world of startups. Most of this will not be new to people who have read a lot of what YC partners have written—the goal is to get it into one place.” Altman explains “So all you need is a great idea, a great team, a great product, and great execution. So easy! 😉 A must read which I summarize my way through shorter extracts:

startup_playbook

Friendly advice first
– Make something users love.
– A word of warning about choosing to start a startup: It sucks!
– On the other hand, starting a startup is not in fact very risky to your career.

A great idea (including a great market)
– Something explained clearly and concisely with a fast-growing potential.
– It’s easier to do something new and hard than something derivative and easy.
– The best ideas sound bad but are in fact good.

A great team
– Mediocre teams do not build great companies.
– A great founder characteristics include unstoppability, determination, formidability, and resourcefulness; intelligence and passion.
– Good founders have a number of seemingly contradictory traits such as rigidity and flexibility.

A great product
– A great product is the only way to grow long-term.
– “Do things that don’t scale” has rightfully become a mantra for startups.
– Iterate and adapt as you go.
PS: By the way, “product” includes all interactions a user has with the company. You need to offer great support, great sales interactions, etc.

A great execution
– You have to do it yourself — the fantasy of hiring an “experienced manager” to do all this work is both extremely prevalent and a graveyard for failed companies. You cannot outsource the work to someone else for a long time.
– Growth (as long as it is not “sell dollar bills for 90 cents” growth) solves all problems, and lack of growth is not solvable by anything but growth.
– Extreme internal transparency around metrics (and financials) is a good thing to do.

Focus and intensity
– The best founders are relentlessly focused on their product and growth. They don’t try to do everything—in fact, they say no a lot.
– While great founders don’t do many big projects, they do whatever they do very intensely. Great founders listen to all of the advice and then quickly make their own decisions.

Being a founder & CEO
– The CEO jobs: 1) set the vision and strategy for the company, 2) evangelize the company to everyone, 3) hire and manage the team, especially in areas where you yourself have gaps 4) raise money and make sure the company does not run out of money, and 5) set the execution quality bar.
– As I mentioned at the beginning, it’s an intense job. If you are successful, it will take over your life to a degree you cannot imagine—the company will be on your mind all the time. Extreme focus and extreme intensity means it’s not the best choice for work-life balance. You can have one other big thing—your family, doing lots of triathlons, whatever—but probably not much more than that.
– No first-time founder knows what he or she is doing. To the degree you understand that, and ask for help, you’ll be better off. It’s worth the time investment to learn to become a good leader and manager. The best way to do this is to find a mentor—reading books doesn’t seem to work as well.
Be persistent. A successful startup CEO is not giving up (although you don’t want to be obstinate beyond all reason either—this is another apparent contradiction, and a hard judgment call to make.)
Be optimistic. Although it’s possible that there is a great pessimistic CEO somewhere out in the world, I haven’t met him or her yet.

Additional advice

– Hiring: Don’t do it. Wait!
– Competition: 99% of startups die from suicide, not murder.
– Fundraising: Investors are looking for companies that are going to be really successful. The “really successful” part is important. If an investor believes you have a 100% chance of creating a $10 million company but almost no chance of building a larger company, he/she will still probably not invest. Always explain why you could be a huge success. . Many of the best companies have struggled with this, because the best companies so often look bad at the beginning (and they nearly always look unfashionable.) And remember that anything but “yes” is a “no”.
– Investors: Good investors really do add a lot of value. Bad investors detract a lot. Most investors fall in the middle and neither add nor detract. Great board members are one of the best outside forcing functions for a company.

All this again was extracted from Sam Altman’s Startup Playbook. Thanks to him for a great job! I must also thank one of my students (he will recognize himself) for mentioning that document to me…

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