Building a startup? There are no rules.


Building a startup is tough. Because it is so hard, it makes sense for entrepreneurs, founders, and VCs to trade advice. We see advice everywhere. The blog posts. The essays. The coffee meetings. It is all useful. Yet, it kind of isn’t.

One of the things I’ve begun to realize is that there just aren’t any hard and fast rules to building a successful startup.

OK, there may be one: create value in the world which can scaled and captured.

That seems true and obvious, but unfortunately isn’t very actionable. Other than that, I’m not sure I can give you a rule which is 100% true.

You may hear that design matters, but I can point you to successful website that are ugly and janky.

You may hear that you should raise as much money as you can, but there are successful companies which have been bootstrapped.

You may hear that the Lean Startup movement is the way to go, but I am show you many of the Alexa Top Sites that didn’t follow the principles.

You might hear that you need a cofounder, but there are startups which have succeeded with a single founder.

You may hear that these accelerators and incubators are great, but many great startup successes have been built outside of these communities/ecosystems.

You may hear you should move fast and break things, but there are other successful startups that don’t seem to move fast on product at all.

You may hear about the benefits of a private beta, but other founders have found success just getting their stuff out there.

I could go on and on.

For any piece of advice, you could follow it and be successful.. or you could not follow it, and be successful.

How do you proceed?

Too much analysis results in paralysis. And, at any moment, there are a ton of decisions to make. For each one, you can deliberate and ask for advice, but at the end of the day, you have to make a decision and run with it. If it is a mistake? Change directions 😉

What time frame do you optimize for?


To optimize productivity for today, I would probably continue working on exactly what I was working on yesterday.

To optimize productivity for the next few years, I would probably continue working in exactly the same area I’ve been working on for the last few years.

To optimize productivity for 10+ years, things change. I may be better off leaving my current area of expertise, and building expertise somewhere else.

To optimize for play today, I would forget about productivity and have as much fun as possible.

To optimize for play in the next few years, I would probably work in my area of expertise to maximize my pay/hour, and use that money to buy awesome life experiences.

To optimize for play in the next 10+ years, I’m not sure what I would do. My guess is that purely playing for the sake of playing would get old. I would want some sense of purpose.

To optimize my life for the now, I would probably optimize for fun.

To optimize my life in the next few years, I would probably do a mix fun, family, and purpose.

To optimize my life for 10+ years, I would probably emphasize family and purpose.

What is interesting is that as the time period changes, my actions to optimize anything also changes. It means that for any given area in life, it is important to know what time frame you are optimizing for. If your actions match the time frame you are optimizing for, you are probably in decent shape. At the very least, you are living the life you intend to life at the moment. If your actions don’t match the time frame you would like to optimize for, then something is off, and it is worth considering whether your actions or the time frame you are optimizing for is off.

I find myself performing this thought experiment from time to time and it has significantly impacted how I view my actions. Personally, I shoot to optimize for the short-term (today) a small fraction of the time (let’s say 20%), and I shoot to optimize for the long-long-term (10+ or 20+ years) most of the time. Optimizing for the now allows me to do some crazy awesome stuff and enjoy the moment. Optimizing for the long-long-term allows me to view my life as a whole, and do what I feel is right for an entire life. I’m not convinced it is worth optimizing for the medium time frames.

Have you done this thought experiment? What time frames do you optimize for, and what have you found to work best for you?

P.S. This is post number #98 in a 100 day blogging challenge. See you tomorrow!

Follow me on Twitter @alexshye.

Or, check out my current project Soulmix.