Startup Lessons

Some thoughts on (tech) startups.

  1. Keep it simple. Every decision you make needs to have minimalism at its heart. On features: fewer is better. On copy: it doesn’t matter nearly as much as you think it does. On software: don’t reinvent the wheel. Use popular frameworks and don’t roll your own code when off-the-shelf will do.

  2. Shipped is better than smart. It’s easy to get carried away with exotic ideas and interesting code. Resist this urge at all costs. Everything takes so much longer to do than you think it will. Keeping your product feature-light and your code simple will defend against this. It doesn’t matter how crazy secure your custom encryption layer is if you die while building it.

  3. Fear the shadow of the future. It’s tempting to write bad code, skip testing, ignore design patterns, hack on production, let your codebase grow. But technical debt has to be paid back someday — and the longer you put it off, the bigger the interest gets.

  4. Technology is a tax on scaling1 so have as little of it as possible. If tumblr is good enough for Yahoo!’s engineering team, then you don’t need to host your own high-availability, DDoS-protected Wordpress stack. Focus on your product’s core features, and don’t get distracted by crazy technical setups.

  5. Don’t break your own rules. If you need to, you’re doing something wrong. If you’ve said that your developers shouldn’t have access to the production database when you go live, don’t break that rule later on. The same is true of features: if you’ve pared down your roadmap to a single essential product, then don’t let feature creep push you off course.

  6. Don’t burn yourself out working crazy hours. Set a sustainable, measurable, predictable pace. If you have to work insane hours to make ends meet, you’re doing something wrong — either your code is bad, your product too complicated, or your team under-resourced.

  7. Be wary of growth through sheer force. Any product can get users, given enough funding. But if it costs you ten times more to acquire a user then they ever return you in profits, your business model is broken.

  8. Listen to your employees. They’re the ones at the coal-face working on your product, selling it to people, meeting your customers. They probably know the most about it. They need to care about it and believe in it. Take their opinions seriously.

  1. Stolen shamelessly from David Mack’s excellent Advice for first-time founders, which all tech startup founders should read.