My journey down startup lane has been a three and a half year roller coaster ride that has tested my willpower, endurance, psychological stability and self-confidence. While the journey has been, by far, the most challenging experience of my life, it has been an incredibly humbling adventure that has helped me to develop a much more appreciative perspective of the world. Throughout the experience, I have immersed myself in a mountain of knowledge and information pertaining to entrepreneurship, startups, business and technology. This has been in parallel to gaining real-world experience from actually executing on ideas and bringing them into reality. The combination of being an obsessive lifelong learner, while executing on such learning (and making every mistake along the way) has helped me develop a sixth sense for spotting bullshit. It takes years of experience and adversity to be able to recognize quality advice from the mountain of hyperbolic garbage out there you find from the talkers who are yet to execute on one of their hundreds of ideas.
From the countless blogs, articles, books, podcasts, videos and lectures I’ve discovered over the years, I’ve compiled the definitive list of resources I wish someone had shown me on day one of my pursuit… Enjoy:
1. Nir and Far - Understanding the neuropsychology behind habit forming products. At the foundation of every great company is a great product or service. This will help you understand ‘why’ you should build products a certain way. Make sure to watch his presentation on what he calls the “Desire Engine”. It outlines the approach for creating habit forming products using examples such as Pinterest and Facebook.
2. Vinicius Vacanti - The blog of Yipit.com‘s candid co-founder and CEO. Vinny shares some of the most practical advice and a raw account of what it’s like to build a product and company using lean principles. My favorite post is this one, where he explains how it took them 2.5 years to make their first dollar. His no-BS advice and insights are a necessary reality check to any budding entrepreneur.
3. Both Sides of the Table – The blog of 2x entrepreneur turned VC, Mark Suster. Mark gives raw and highly practical advice from the business standpoint of doing a startup. He discusses everything from fund raising and equity share to analyzing markets and trends. He also hosts the popular YouTube show, This Week in Venture Capital, which is part of the ThisWeekIn series, where he interviews entrepreneurs with his very forward, VC style, approach.
4. Platform Thinking – Understand the ins and outs of what it takes to build a platform from case studies of successful companies as examples. One of the most definitive, if not the most definitive moment in the web’s history was when Facebook announced the Facebook Platform (Graph API). For the first time in history, a company of incredible scale would enable 3rd party developers to read from and write data into Facebook, for free. This has enabled Facebook to develop a sustainable ecosystem of 3rd party developers that is helping us build the semantic web. In the process, they separated themselves from all other social networks and have quickly become the social layer of the web.
5. Stanford’s Entrepreneurship Corner: Podcasts – Stanford’s Entrepreneurial Thought Leader Series Lectures. Each lecture is a 45min-1hour long talk and Q&A session given by founders or executives from all types of companies, some of whose products we all use and love, like Facebook, Spotify, Dropbox, Instagram, Pandora and MySql to name a few. They give a real account of what it took to find success, as well as how long it took and their failures along the way. I’ve listened to almost every one of these lectures (over 100 hours!) on my iPhone, usually before I go to bed… yes, we live in a day and age where you can get an Ivy League education for free from your damn cell phone, anytime, anywhere. Some of my favorites are Daniel Ek (Spotify), Zuckerberg, and Marten Mickos (MySql).
6. The Lean Startup by Eric Ries (Book) – Explains the methodological approach to building companies by starting out by just building the simplest version of your product first (MVP – Minimum Viable Product) and then continuously iterating on it based on user feedback. He uses case studies like Facebook and even Apple to show how this approach has worked well throughout history, but has never really been outlined clearly the way Eric did it. It really shows how startups are just as much science as they are art.
7. Blue Ocean Strategy by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne (Book) – Discusses how the best and most sustainable businesses create new markets using innovative tactics and business models rather than trying to chip away at market share from existing markets. The best example of this I can think of is Spotify’s business model, where all the music is free for users, while Spotify pays royalties to the artists and give users the option to pay $5 or $10 a month to be able to remove ads and take their playlists with them on their mobile device. Spotify is one of my favorite disruptive business models in the past decade… they’re getting people to pay over $100 a year for music, when the last time they paid for music was most likely a decade ago — that is about as blue ocean as you can get.
1. This Week in Startups – YouTube show by Jason Calacanis. He interviews founders of different startups, both the success stories and the up and comers. Again, a very raw inside look into their real stories of the ups and downs.
2. Startup Digest – Sign up for their free weekly email that provides a list of entrepreneurship, business, and technology articles to read. It serves as a good break in the work week, as well as an undemanding way to keep up with the latest development resources available that you can take advantage of. This is my Sunday reading list.
3. TechCrunch – You probably know TC, but just in case, I decided to add it here. Make sure to limit yourself with TC though, since it’s easy to get carried away reading post after post… before you know it, you’ll find yourself in a timesink black hole. TC is just a great resource to learn about all different types of business models, products, and ideas. It’s important to know what technologies are available as well as to learn what others (potential competitors) are doing. Many of my ideas have actually come to me while reading a TC article… so there’s a big inspirational aspect to reading it also.
4. Quora – I definitely recommend becoming a pretty frequent user. It really is the best resource to get your questions answered about anything from people with credibility. Also, it’s an incredible opportunity to network and market your product/service, as well as to become an “expert” in your field.
5. How to Get Rich by Felix Dennis (Book) – This one’s more for motivation than practical/technical entrepreneurship learning. Media mogul, Felix Dennis, discusses how hard he worked to be the founder of some of the most successful publishing companies ever, including Maxim magazine as one of their titles. He’s a funny bastard too and doesn’t shy away from showing off his love for wine and poetry.
One thing you learn from pursuing a startup is that experience trumps all. While we would have avoided several pitfalls along the way by applying much of the knowledge these resources provide, there’s no amount of research or preparation that will guarantee your success. You are going to make plenty of mistakes. You will be tested and broken often. Entrepreneurship is a game of trial and error. A startup is just an experiment to prove a hypothesis right or wrong and the most important thing I’ve learned is that failure is a prerequisite for success. Fortunately, your success is not determined by your ability to avoid all mistakes, but by your ability to learn what you need to from them when they happen. On the positive side, though, the skills you’ll learn doing a startup are invaluable.
Good luck on your pursuit in claiming your dent in the universe, you lunatic!