Be good (the startup version)

Yesterday, I wrote on a big lesson that consistently pops up in my life: be good. The lesson is simple: if you want something, the only thing that matters is to be good.

Most recently, I have been learning this lesson with respect to startups.

When I quit my job in April 2012, I had no idea what I was doing. I only knew that I wanted to create an impact in the world, and that I probably had to figure it out on my own.

The first thing I did was consume everything I could find on the web and in the bookstore. I devoured books and blog posts. I watched as many videos as I could find from founders I respected. I browsed Hacker News daily, reading a good fraction of all the posts on the front page. At the same time, I started doing a lot. I picked up web programming. I started blogging. I continually networked as best I could, taking coffee meeting after coffee meeting.

In the first year, I met a lot of people, and learned a great deal about the VC and tech world. However, I hadn’t built anything worth anything. I had built and scrapped three prototype products. So where was my startup? At ground zero.

After I scrapped my third code base, I remembered that lesson that I always seem to come back to: be good.

Since then, I’ve browsed Hacker News a lot less. I’ve drastically cut back on coffee meetings. Instead, I spend almost all of my time building and iterating on product.


A startup is defined by it’s product. Build a great product, and you’ve built the beginnings of a great startup. Fail to build a great product, and there is no startup.

You can have the greatest network in the world, but without a good product, you are just simply good at schmoozing and connecting with people.

You can figure out a way to raise millions of dollars, but without a good product, you aren’t a startup. You are just a bank account.

You can churn out thousands of lines of code, but if it doesn’t turn into a good product, those lines of code are going to be thrown away.

You can build your Twitter and blog following, but without a good product, you are a talking head.

You can read all of Hacker News, Techcrunch, etc. but without a good product, you are just a listener.. most likely listening to a bunch of talking heads.

You can learn all you want about growth hacking, but without a good product, you have nothing to grow.

Only one thing matters in building a startup: being good at building product.

And how do you build a great product?

I wish I could answer that one. I only know that the start of that answer again is to be good. I don’t think there are any tricks. Great products don’t just pop out of thin air. They are created by people who are good at building product that people want.*

Knowing this, there is only one thing to do: focus on understanding great consumer web/mobile products. I’m not good yet, but hopefully if I keep focusing and working, I’ll get there one day.

* One may say there is some luck involved, and I would agree. But it isn’t all luck, and the best way to maximize your luck is to be good, and be persistent.

* You may ask why I am blogging. First, I am rounding out this 100-day challenge. Second, and more importantly, I have learned that blogging everyday forces me to reflect and think about the big picture on a regular basis. This forcing function has actually been great. So even if I write horribly with typos and grammatical errors all over the place, the writing is really good for me. I’m not sure what I’ll do when the blogging challenge is over, but I may keep writing everyday.

P.S. This is post number #82 in a 100 day blogging challenge. See you tomorrow!

Follow me on Twitter @alexshye.

Or, check out my current project Soulmix.

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