📻 — Living in the Future via Mike Maples: Startups are Not Companies

This is your Community, Daily.

Reading Time: ~ 6 min.

Good morning yeniverse!

Here are your links, punks. L(° O °L)

  1. guessJellyPhysics. $100kChats. Native universities.

  2. Fuck slackMeganWhy. Biz modelsFormsyPidocPhotos.

  3. FutureMarsTwistedStill. Loyalty matters. Don’t dieBucket.

  4. AnneGoodStartup basics. GlauberFinallyWhite-adjacent?

  5. Break the metaTom. Angel investing. Failure theoryDebtS1.

  6. FrameExcitedLosslessHistoryObviousNonsenseTrue.

  7. ParlerFave. Startups are hardProfoundLookStrongProjector.

  8. “Data driven.” Good giftsPizza. Real behavior change is hard.

  9. Neato! Li on NFXFundamentalContentCommonsTiming.

  10. Become the media company you were born to beCoffee.

To infinity & community,

— john

An unbelievable interview via FS; I’ve taken a ton of notes for you (and me!): I’ll try to add some context when I can but you should really listen to this man — he’s got some really fantastic ways of not just looking at opportunity but also understanding the systems and patterns that undergird them. Fuck… he might even be “brilliant” (I’ve never met him so I’ll figure that out if I ever do).

I’ve decided to spend my time with people who are living in the future.

It’s neat to be so decisive about one’s position in life. I respect that a lot.

What we’ve come to realize is that a startup isn’t really a company at all.

A startup is a set of founders with hopefully a set of proprietary insights that are a result of them living in the future. A startup has to achieve 3 or 4 breakthroughs to make it work.

This was honest. Although 99 out of 100 people would call my project a “startup” — especially since I’ve raised > $4M in venture capital — it’s still not really a company because we aren’t making revenue. We have the insights but that won’t be enough for very long. Thank God we’re close.

Most of the great startups come from a great insight; it usually occurs with someone who’s living in the future and they notice something that’s fundamentally missing. The founder’s job is to be the time traveler and bring back to the present this insight and to find those first, true believers.

The insight will oftentimes define the market; it’s about finding something valuable about the future and then starting a movement of people who believe what you believe, until everyone believes. The insight contains the “potential energy” of the idea and if it’s right you change the rules and gain an asymmetric upside as a result.

I do feel like I’ve found something so obvious via the future and that I’m just living there while simultaneously doing my best to build that reality. We have a ton of “potential energy” that’s about to be unlocked.

Sometimes people will ask me, “How do you get a good startup idea?” The counterintuitive answer to that question is don’t try to think of a startup. People are like, “What are you talking about? That’s a crazy answer.” Well, it turns out that most of the great startups come from a great insight and a great insight usually occurs when someone is living in the future and they notice something that’s missing.


The team matters a lot and they like “improvising their way to success” instead of working toward KPIs. What you’re trying to do in value hacking is figure out what you can build that is unique that people are desperate for. If your insight is truly powerful, it will connect with somebody desperate because you’ll be solving problems in a novel way that’s never been solved that way before and it’s an order of magnitude noticeably better for those people.

“Value hacking” is an interesting way of putting it but it resonates, at least to the degree where you’re testing early market resonance via technology and positioning. The hardest part is that you must get both right for this to work! A great product doesn’t always explain itself (but I believe it can). Over-engineering this is also a danger.

The value phase is all about seeking the truth, rather than selling. If the truth of your value proposition is super-compelling, then growth becomes an exercise of syndicating the truth. If the truth of your value proposition is not present, you have to grow by throwing money at the problem of growth. You have to spend money on marketing programs and you have to persuade people to buy rather than teach people to buy. This is called “fake growth.” Now, you know how to delivery value in a way that no one else knows.

What a startup needs is how can I can have a value proposition that’s so awesome that is resulting in customers literally pulling the product out of me, desperately. Then, we can think about growth because we can teach them to buy instead of convincing / persuading them to buy. It must be so strong that the customers in your market would be irrational not to buy it if they knew the truth. Then, you can scale as the market readies itself.

Reading the last few sentences above really does kick me in the sack; a very hard and visceral reminder of what it takes to get to the promised land of product-market fit. The utter irrationality is key. I’ve only experienced it twice; maybe 1.5 times if I’m to be honest but I will never forget the feeling of the customers literally pulling the product out of our sweaty hands. Crazy-awesome and crazy-fucking-scary at the same time. It was so hard during those growth periods that I had to get hospitalized for burn-out — I can’t believe that was 9 years ago!

Yikes. Time is moving fast my friends. Let’s not fuck about.

You want a leader who is a “learn it all” type of person; someone who absorbs new ideas like a sponge and they are mentally-flexible when they are wrong. A unique combination of a lack of ego and determination to fill in the gaps of what they know and what they don’t know.

I try to be this type of person / leader but I know I have a lot of areas to improve. I’m grateful for clarity of thought these days; infinitely more than when I was a younger entrepreneur. I simply allow myself to sit at my desk and think — for hours if I need. Ideas are oxygen to the brain and soul; we forget to give it a bit of a break.

Great investors read a lot, they are genuinely curious, and try their hardest to not repeat mistakes.

I hate most investors; even a few of the ones that have given me money. I’m not sorry about that, I just think that most of them have no idea what it takes to do this type of work and if they really did then they’d act very, very differently. But, I’ve also had to learn to live with my mistakes and then not repeat them. I’m getting better at choosing my financial partners and I aim to improve every single time.

The defining characteristic of a founder is that they are an artist; in the sense that they notice things that most folks don’t notice and they present their ideas in ways that move people to act in ways where they will abandon logic.

Part of being an entrepreneurial artist is seeing the emergence signals that you weren’t necessarily looking for explicitly, but they reveal themselves and you see them with a sensitivity that an artist would see an emotional thing that they can put on a canvas for their art.

Founders must have the skill to convince normal people to do something that most people will consider crazy. You have to get them to join a movement; something that they are moved by.

They have a vision that compels a set of like-minded people; and they all feel as if they are in on a secret together and they believe that they are going to convert everyone to their point of view because it’s so obvious to them.

💯 — I know how to galvanize people into action because I really do believe the shit that I’m thinking and talking about. I really do believe in a decentralized future (in fact, it’s already here). I really do believe in the metaverse and our inevitable ability to frictionlessly-connect with anyone — anywhere — even if they are on Mars (thanks Elon). This is so obvious to me that I sometimes think I’m crazy because most people around me do not see this and the very concept seems frightening (but they are unsure of why).

We invested in Lyft when it was Zimride back in 2010 and it would be very easy for us to believe we knew more than we knew at the time. Same with Twitter, same with Twitch, same with Okta. The ones that we did say yes to and it was a big win, we try not to breathe our own fumes too much. We try to go back in time and say, “What went right and what did we get right, and did we get it right on purpose or by accident?”

Lots of people tend to go through life taking one problem at a time, deciding one problem at a time. I think it’s helpful in living a better life to acknowledge that there are better ways to decide things. Sometimes you know there’s a better way through experience or reading books or whatnot and sometimes you don’t know what the better way is. I look at mental models as frameworks for making decisions that maximize the probability of the best outcome.

Cool. Thanks Mike.