Whilst scrolling through my twitter feed, I cam across an article that caught my eye, since the title seemed so contrary to public opinion. The title read, “Paul Graham on why he doesn’t like seeing college-age and younger founders”. This title immediately caught my attention, since I feel as though the exact opposite is encouraged in today’s society. I have always though that creating a start-up at a young age would be the dream, since you would have a job that you are passionate about, and you would get to be your own boss. However, Paul Graham, a computer programmer who founded Y Combinator (a seed accelerator), thinks just the opposite. Graham shares his view that your 20s are meant to be spent discovering what you want to do, and trying new things, rather than tying yourself down to one company. From his experience working with start-ups, Graham knows that a start-up is an all-consuming gig, and will therefore seriously restrict your social life. He thus recommends young adults to not dive into a start-up directly out of school, but rather take some time in your life to have fun and figure out what direction you want to pursue further down the road.
In watching the interview that this article was based off of, I was able to learn more about Graham and his perspectives, some of which aligned with Ben Horowitz, author of my summer read, The Hard Thing About Hard Things. Graham shared his perspective that determination was more important than intelligence in a start-up, similar to Horowitz’ emphasis on courage and endurance to push through “the struggle”. I have found this commonality in other articles and interviews I have read about start-ups, as it seems to be a consensus across the board. Determination, grit, courage, and other similar attributes seem to be the driving forces of successful founders. These attributes would be extremely necessary if you were the sole founder, since you are responsible for keeping morale up in your employees, and in yourself.
Another interesting perspective Graham offered was the idea that people shouldn’t start a company with the full idea mapped out in their head, but rather approach it with a “let’s see what happens” mindset. As a hacker, Graham said that this was always the mindset he held, and feels that this carries over into the start-up world as well. This also reminded me of Horowitz’ discussion on the importance of a founder accepting that the product they start out with will not stay the same down the road. Being able to accept change and adapt seem to be fundamental aspects of being a founder, since the whole objective of a start-up is to grow, which often implies change.
In talking about his own company, Y Combinator, Graham said they often look to fund people who have not been employed by a large company for a long period of time. When hearing this I assumed it would be because he feared the individual has a greater chance of being a slacker, since in a large company you may have the ability to fly under the radar. However, his reasoning behind this is that he feels the two are entirely different types of people. “If you were the kind of person who would make a good founder, you wouldn’t be able to stand working for a large company for 20 years.” I feel that this reasoning makes sense, however I am sure that there are exceptions to this theory.
Graham also offered a somewhat different viewpoint than what I am used to hearing about start-up founders. Often I hear that start-up founders require a large amount of creativity and vision in order to make their product successful. However, Graham believes that if you care enough about the users you are targeting, and pay attention to their needs, you don’t necessarily need excessive creativity. All you need in this case is the ability to see what is missing in the user’s lives.
Overall, I found this article and interview very informative about the start-up world, and what it takes to be a founder. It was great to see similar points made in this interview and in my book from this summer, validating what I had learned from Horowtiz.