Nobody is going to build your startup

I stopped going to startup events a year ago because the harassment wouldn’t stop.

After the small talk, the inevitable “so, what do you do?” The swarmy sea of strong-jawed business folks circle like sharks. They look for light-wash jeans and faded t-shirts among the crowd, surely a sign that they have found a developer. 30 seconds later, the pitch. 60 seconds after, the invite for lunch and a joke about how finding a co-founder is like dating.

Nobody is going to build your startup.

Well, except for the Romanian dev shop salivating over the thought of your $15k in their pocket and the half-assed effort it will take them to get it.

Don’t do that. And stop harassing developers at meet-ups. Chances are they already have three friends asking them to build things for them, and you’re not their friend.

Instead, build something. Build anything you can with the skills you have. Because the funny thing about ideas is they usually don’t hold up after launch. The faster you get there, the faster you’ll see the right direction appear.

Andrew Mason was a music major with an idea for a website. He wanted a way for people to come together to collaborate around ‘acts of good’ — organizing a group to all volunteer at the same day, for example. Instead of harassing developers, he built it using WordPress. And then it failed.

Why use that example? Because after he launched the site, Andrew found a subset of users were collaborating for something less ‘good’ but entirely reasonable — getting group discounts on purchases. This intel was so valuable that he turned the idea into another WordPress site, called Groupon. And then things took off.

“It got to the point where we’d sell 500 sushi coupons in a day and we’d send 500 PDFs to people with Apple Mail at the same time. Really the first, until July of the first year was just a scrambling to grab the tiger by the tail. It was trying to catch up and reasonable piece together a product.” – Andrew Mason

How many of your ideas haven’t made it to V2? It’s really hard to get there. Ideas are raw and yet we protect them too much. Your app idea needs to be like an MMA fighter: getting punched in the face a few times before learning how to duck, and then punch back.

Part of this problem is the emotional baggage we carry with terms like “startup” and “failure”. When Pieter Levels ( launched a campaign to build 12 startups in 12 months, some people thought it was stretch to call these projects startups. But if he called it “12 ideas in 12 months” nobody would’ve paid any attention. Pieter ignored the noise and focused on executing each idea. A year later, one of the projects, NomadList, is now bringing in $30k a month in revenue. Not bad for one guy with 12 ideas.

There’s something in the air. The attention Nomad List got was insane and to me shows that we’re in the middle of a gigantic social trend towards remote working internationally. I love seeing this movement unfold and I want to solve the problems in it. It’s fun in two ways, if you can solve problems here, it can be a catalyst to the evolution of this movement. And if you do it well, it’ll make you money too. – Peter Levels

Nobody is going to build your startup.

So don’t start a startup. Start an experiment. Start a project. Over time, I think more people will follow the Kevin Rose strategy. Instead of starting a startup, he created an app incubator called North. Instead of people judging his one piece of software and asking about pivots, he was now free to build multiple things and see what worked best.

This idea isn’t radical. But it’s more than just a strategy for traction. When you build experiments and projects, you end up with a better product/founder fit. You get to see what it’s actually like to work on a project, and whether it feels like pushing a boulder up a hill or if you love every second.

Kevin’s first app was Tiiny, a photo sharing app. It failed. But instead of a long, drawn out death, it was a quick one. Kevin shifted direction in a way nobody saw coming. His second app idea was scratching his own itch as a watch enthusiast, called Watchville. Almost a year later, his company was acquired and he is now the CEO of the leading wristwatch magazine. Who saw that coming? But he seems happy. And that’s what matters.

The lesson we learn from Kevin is that you can’t get to the real ideas and problems if you don’t test them in a way that is flexible.

YC president Sam Altman agrees. He thinks the term “startup” is killing some game-changing ideas before they even take off. “As soon as you declare something a company, and not a project, there’s this pressure to figure everything out quickly,” he said at a recent conference.

I can’t stress enough how much labels and definitions influence our actions. Don’t let this ruin your chance of success.

“Take the time to figure out what you’re going to do and let it be a project before it’s a company. Have the idea first and then let the company be the way to support the thing that you think is awesome, to make it happen.” — Sam Altman

Nobody is going to build your startup.

Except you. The only way to convince other people to join is with social proof, revenue/traction, or a giant pile of money. And to get any of those things, your idea needs to get punched in the face a few times. It’s not going to be fun, but it’s worth it. Because you don’t want to take the leap and end up building a company that you hate. Life’s just too short for that.

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