Paul Graham’s Best Advice to Aspiring Entrepreneurs: JUST LEARN! (Notes from CS183B: How to Start a Startup Lecture 3)

Paul Graham was the guest speaker for this week's lecture

Paul Graham was the guest speaker for this week’s lecture

Not as many people showed up for this week’s viewing lecture for “CS183B: How to Start a Startup” but nonetheless, the discussion group proved to be really interesting and insightful as we not only discussed key points in the lecture but we also talked about problems we faced and how we could solve them. It was really interesting how we ended up talking about very diverse fields from machine learning to education to media and journalism to weather, wearables and smart fabric to networking and starting a startup in college. (You can jump straight to our discussion group’s points by scrolling down to the last part).

You can view resources for the class here: http://startupclass.samaltman.com/

My overall takeaway from today though was that there’s no set-way or formula to starting a startup. There are certain things that worked for some entrepreneurs that didn’t work for other entrepreneurs. At the end of the day, starting a startup is really just about having an idea, getting cofounders, building a product users love, getting feedback from users, committing your time to your startup then just LEARNING every step of the way.

Start by making a few people really happy :D

Start by making a few people really happy 😀

Summarized Notes from today’s lecture by Paul Graham:

  1. Startups are very counter-intuitive
    • Startups are so weird that if you follow your instincts, they’ll lead you astray. We grew up learning how to think in certain ways but running a startup entails that you think differently.
  2. What you need to succeed in startups is not expertise in startup
    • What you need is not expertise in your startup but expertise in your users
    • Mark Zuckerburg succeeded even as a noob at startups because he understood his USERS really well – in other words, MAKE SOMETHING PEOPLE WANT
    • We usually go through the motions of starting a startup because we were taught this way. To get high grades, we were taught how to memorize facts and practice. To get into college, we were told that we had to have lots of extra-curricular activities. So we think that there’s also a set formula to startups. But the truth is, the only formula and growth hack you need to know is this: Make something users really love and tell them about it.
  3. Starting a startup is where gaming the system stops working
    • As a college student, you’re used to gaming the system and finding loopholes. As an employee, you know what to do to climb that corporate ladder. But in the startup world, you can’t trick people if you want to last. There are no people to trick. There are only your valuable users. Ohh, and you’re wasting your time trying to fool investors only to crumble in the long run.
  4. Startups are all consuming
    • Starting a startup will take A LOT of your time. It can take months and years. Moreover, if it succeeds, it will take over the rest of your life.
    • Larry Paige (the cofounder of Google) has been running since age 25 and he hasn’t been able to stop ever since. It never gets easier for founders. There’s always something you need to do.
  5. Can universities teach you about startups? YES and NO
    • Universities can teach you how to learn how to startup. It’s like studying linguistics because you want to learn French. What you need to know is the needs of your own users.
    • You can’t do it as a student because IT TAKES OVER YOUR LIFE
    • Two paths: Be a real student and not start a startup or Sacrifice being a student and pursue your startup
  6. You can’t tell how hard starting a startup will be
    • Starting a startup will change you a lot.
    • It’s easy to tell your chances and predict outcomes for other things. But it’s hard to predict which startups will succeed.
    • To build a startup, you only really need two things: An Idea 2. Cofounders
  7. The way to get a startup idea is not think of startup ideas
    • Turn your brain to the type that thinks of startup ideas unconsciously
    • Yahoo, Google, Apple all started out as projects. They weren’t supposed to be companies. Best ideas start as side projects
    • How do you find these ideas? Learn things that matter; Work on things that interest you; Work with people you can learn from and people you respect
    • Real problems are interesting. Get yourself involved with leading edge technology. Live in the future. Work on things that stretch you.
    • All the best startups are thing that aren’t made to be startups.
    • The best way to start a startup is to just do it

Ultimate advice from Paul Graham: JUST LEARN

The classic version of college – education for its own sake may be where the best ideas come from. If you want to start a startup, learn powerful things. Have a genuine curiosity and become an expert at something.

Productivity hacks: Set-up situations that force you to work. Paul was forced to read through thousands of YC-combinators and really analyze each one because he didn’t want to just randomly accept companies that they would be spending time on.

The hree things you need to create a successful startup

The hree things you need to create a successful startup

Ideas and interesting points from our discussion group: 

  1. Disrupting Journalism and Media – We talked about how people these days have super short attention span. Students also have a hard time reading lots of chapters of books. How can we keep people interested? Are interactive graphics (Like what the New York Times has been doing) the solution? Is there a way to cater the length, style and content of articles based on the reader? How do you present data in the best way?
  2. Robots, Computers, Machine Learning and Automating Industries – We had a discussion on how we could humanize computers and allow them to better understand human processes. We also talked about machines replacing manual labor and what effect this would have for employees. Is there a way to make processes more efficient through computing/algorithms/robots/brain computer interfacing?
  3. Getting people who are interested in the same things into one place – Is there a way to make interacting and meeting like-minded individuals easier? Do we really have to go through 1000 coffee dates with all our FB friends just to find people with similar interests? (the article about a guy who is really doing this was raised)
  4. Smart materials, future of wearables and adapting to changing weather – We talked about how we could combat the rapid fluctuations in weather within a day. Would it be possible to create clothing that made you feel warmer or colder depending on the temperature? Smart fabric was brought up in this.
  5. Starting a startup in College – Karan talked about his experience with GreenVote and how it has forced him to wear multiple hats and learn new things. We also came to a conclusion that being in a big University like UPenn with an abundance of resources and research facilities can really be advantageous for startups. How do you balance your time between working on a startup and finishing your homework?

“If there is a small group who interacts with you long enough this means people will eventually come. Think about it this way, if other people are spending half an hour talking to you about your startup, then they must be interested, and you must be building something relevant. It’s all about passion and finding this shared passion among your customers and users.” – Karan Hiremath, UPenn Class of 2016 and Co-Founder of GreenVote (http://grnvote.com/about)

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