📻 — Paul Graham: Startup (Communities) in 13 Sentences

This is your Community, Daily.

Reading Time: ~ 6 min.

Good morning yeniverse!

Last week I shared a few older mentorship, culture / handbooks from a larger Fortune 500 that I had previously worked for — they didn’t get much attention but I still think they are worth reading and walking through and perhaps saving for later usage.

You never know…

A few interesting links for creators, business builders, and community enthusiasts, per usual:

  1. What’s your community tech stack? All your lists. Decen-auth.

  2. Pressfield. Build curriculum for an online course. Not a smallthing.

  3. Cameo copy. Target + AppleStarted. 4 marketing patterns.

  4. Grievance. One wallet. Feedback, bugs. Toys go IPO; coins tooTime.

  5. Twitter analytics ($). Argue about something else. Awesome CTO.

  6. Noble creatures. Gumroad’s Creator School! DO S-1. 1st Q.

  7. Game-changer. CRM for startups. Clubhouse coaching scams.

  8. Hey Facebook. Real cheating. Twitch for beauty. Voice allthethings.

  9. Beautiful competition. Maker grants! Mental health via Slack.

  10. Notion dogFrameworks. Compose framework for writing.

Also… I still can’t get over this. I think it won’t work. Tell me I’m wrong.

To infinity & community,

— john

Last week was a bit of a strange one for me, I won’t lie, as it began with driving 4 hours up on a Monday to drop my wife and 3 kids off at a remote cabin deep in the northern part of Tahoe / Truckee for the week…

… and then I drove 4 hours back to hang out by myself in a now very spacious home in southern-side of sunny (and very warm) San Jose. I then proceeded to walk around my home naked while working.

Just kidding; maybe.

A week without the family was, honestly, a real vacation of-sorts and picking them up on Friday was a relief — I’m not made to live alone for extended periods of time, especially at this point in my life! So glad to have my first community close by!

Although, they did enjoy the “tiny house” that we had rented!

But, what the break allowed me to do was to spend time thinking deeply about my business, my community, and the startup that I’m putting together.

I had some real moments of clarity and insight; I’m so grateful for the “breath of fresh air” that my wife gave me as I orient myself and our company for the rest of the year!

I read a ton of (old and new) books and “meandered” my way back to a few older essays and pieces of writing that I’ve always loved and held close; one of them is from Paul Graham’s blog in February of 2009 on “Startups in 13 Sentences” — 13 is my all-time favorite number and so I simply can’t help my affinity for this one:

I decided to read it one more time and add a few additional thoughts as well as some perspectives on community building. Obviously, PG’s work is strong as a standalone read:

1. Pick good cofounders.

I’m glad that PG started with this one because everything lives or dies on the quality of your cofounders and the team’s ability to communicate fluidly and without reservation; the outcome is trust and can help you survive anything / everything. But, without it, you will most-definitely die (or have to fire all of them).

The same goes for early community members. You must choose them intentionally and wisely; not all of them will “make sense” at first but if they love you and love the value that you’re delivering them then you’re already in a good spot.

Remember to start with why as this does really attract the best folks first:

2. Launch fast.

I’m not nearly as good at this as I think I am but I have also discovered that “fast” is both objective and relative based on the industry, vertical, niche, and expertise that the founder / founding team has within the space.

This is why you’ll see experienced builders launch a prototype quickly and then “disappear” for months; years even. “Fast” is hard to qualify; it requires quite a bit of context to be fully appreciated, understood, and leveraged.

Launching “fast” can oftentimes come into direct conflict with investing deeply into a new community (and new community members). Launching “fast” doesn’t mean “scale fast”; it means provide a place where you can directly connect with your (future) community members as-quickly as possible. Then, invest deeply and over a long period of time.

3. Let your idea evolve.

Your first idea around your startup might be “the one” but it is very unlikely that it’ll be the idea that eventually builds a profitable and growing business.

In short, you’re probably going to have to pivot; maybe a few times.

4. Understand your users.

The is the single most important thing when building a startup. In fact, most of all of these stand on the foundation built by understanding users and customers. And of course you must do this as part of your early community-building exercises!

Building a new company and a new community isn’t rocket science but as PG mentions, you won’t be able to solve their problems if you never actually ask the question(s) that help you derive solutions that they will want (and love).

If you’re building a product and haven’t talked to a user in a while… you’re doing this entirely wrong. And if you’re building a community I’m honestly not entirely sure how you’re doing this anyways without interfacing with real humans?!

5. Better to make a few users love you than a lot ambivalent.

Prematurely-scaling is what kills most folks on #5 above and #6 below. Make sure you’re absolutely certain of the value that you’re delivering before you scale the operation in any meaningful way!

This is especially-important if you’re building software, like a B2B SaaS or a CommSaaS as the first-rule of community-building is making a safe, worthwhile environment that people love and have a real, authentic sense of belonging with the other folks in the core community.

6. Offer surprisingly good customer service.

It’s crazy how easy and how hard this is. Mostly because the folks who are amazing at it don’t really think about it that much and the folks who aren’t usually try to find ways “out” of having to do this.

The results are plain: Startups and communities that are community-centric win. Period. Full stop.

7. You make what you measure.

It’s like baking or cooking anything that requires measurements and an ingredient list: If you’re not precise nor accurate; what were you actually expecting (and can you really be disappointed with the outcomes)?

8. Spend little.

Most new projects and communities can achieve reasonable and meaningful “liftoff” without having to spend much money (if at all).

That’s why I promote starting communities or new projects or even a more aggressive startup with something like an “info product” or even a free email newsletter combo.

These things don’t have to be expensive and if they are then it’s time to revisit your core workflows and make it more financially palatable.

9. Get ramen profitable.

Money talks. It’s also a great motivator. Make sure you’re getting paid validation as soon as you can.

For instance, when I was test-driving the new direction for YEN in early-2020 I created an Information Product and sold it in the form of an online and interactive workshop / course.

We charged $59 to $299 for the experience and I was able to get a really good (and real) taste of what the market could (financially) bear as well as test-drive market demand:

It’s neat to think that it’s barely been a year since we ran these profitable, early-experiments; to see where we are now completely blows my mind! This is the power of a community-centric software design / development process which, can be a bit slower, but has higher fidelity results in my view.

10. Avoid distractions.

Startup founders and community-centric creators are always capital-B “builders” and can’t help themselves when it comes to experimenting with new technology, platforms, and more for themselves and for their communities. This is a net-positive, usually, but it can also be a massive distraction without guardrails or accountability.

Make sure that you know what you’re measuring (#7) and that you’re following it closely.

11. Don’t get demoralized.

Building a company is the hardest way to earn a living. Building a community around your startup keeps you sane and can help you manage the growing stress of putting a new project together.

In this way, building community around your startup and project is a good idea for your own mental health! Who would have thought?!

The point is that a startup venture can get lonely and you’ll want a community around you to support you when you’re feeling down and beat-up. It’s going to happen (if it hasn’t already) so you know that this is for your own good!

12. Don’t give up.

Great communities survive ups and downs. They’ve seen shit. So, if you’re going to build something meaningful, you’re not going to want to give-up too soon before it really gets good.

13. Deals fall through.

Startups and building communities is nothing more than an exercise of managing personal and professional disappointment; getting used to this is both sensible and pragmatic.

Get up and move on; your community is waiting for you.