In the fall of 2014, Sam Altman delivered the first part of his lecture at Stanford University – “How to Start a Startup” – with Dustin Moskovitz. Altman is the president for Y Combinator, a seed accelerator, and Dustin Moskovitz is an internet entrepreneur who is the co-founder of Facebook and Asana. In this lecture, the pair offer helpful advice on what it takes to start one that leads to success.
Altman begins by discussing the necessity of having a great idea: one should aim to build a business that can’t be easily duplicated. “You want something that sounds like a bad idea, but is a good idea,” says Altman. For startups, long term thinking is beneficial because of the evolution of the idea, and when considering what you’re building, think about how it fulfills your needs before those of the customers, so that you can make something that people will love, not just like.
In order to have a prosperous company, it’s essential to know how to transform your great idea into a great product. “It’s better to build something that a small number of users love than a large number of users like,” says Altman. It’s best to start off with a product that is simple, even if it will not be so; examples are the first version of Facebook, Google and the IPhone, which was the reason why people loved them, he says. When recruiting users, it’s preferable to do it in person and then get their feedback on your product, remembering that they will be the ones advocating for it.
Why a Startup?
Moskovitz concludes the lecture by explaining the reason why you should start a startup. He begins by dispelling the myths of an entrepreneurial lifestyle, such as the misconception that it’s glamorous, when it really can be stressful because of the responsibility; being the boss of the rest, when in reality, your bosses become those who you have to account for; having a flexible schedule, when in truth, you will always be on call, be a role model and always be working because of your passion for your idea; and that by making more money, I’ll have more control, but the truth is that you have to maximize your impact in order to make more money. The best reason to begin a startup is because you feel that it’s necessary to do it, or it is something that the world needs you to do. Moskovits recalls how he and Justin Rosenstein felt before deciding to start their web and mobile application, Asana; “Yeah, so we just couldn’t stop working on it, and literarily, the idea was like beating itself out of our chests, like forcing itself into the world, and I think that’s the feeling you should really be looking for when you start a company; that’s how you know you have the right idea.”
Image credit: CC by Robert Scoble