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Ask HN: Is there a step-by-step guide on how to create a successful startup?
26 points by altern8 29 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 31 comments
I'm looking for a step-by-step guide on how to create a successful startup, from start to finish.

For instance, the first step could be "find a problem", the second step "validate your idea", third step could be "create MVP", then "get feedback", etc. etc.

I guess some sort of methodology that if you follow causes you to very likely succeed (or the opposite, e.g. skipping one step would make your startup fail.

The How to Start a Startup videos from YC are goodhttps://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL5q_lef6zVkaTY_cT1k7q....

Very nice! Thanks.

The Lean Startup by Eric Ries probably is as close as it gets to what you’re describing.

Anything more specific can’t take variations in context and market development into account.

There’s no cookie cutter way of creating a successful startup from scratch.

If you have an existing network and if you’ve done it before then the chances are higher that you can reproduce successful outcomes. Still, there are quite a few examples of entrepreneurs who’ve created a successful startup but weren’t able to achieve similar results with their following endeavours.

Uncertainty and the search for a business model are the very nature of startups. Reproducible results come with established models.

Ha! I actually already have it in my Kindle, I bought it and never read it.

I will now if you're saying it's good.


There isn't a guide that is definitive on the outcome. There are guidelines, but even if you follow them it doesn't make success of a startup.

If you want the short story on startup success it can be summed up in one word overall, Execution.

Most startups fail because of poor execution and by making more mistakes than not. If you can outlast your mistakes (which everyone will have) and execute on each stage you succeed.

> There isn't a guide that is definitive on the outcome. There are guidelines, but even if you follow them it doesn't make success of a startup.

What are the best ones, in your opinion? Could you link a good one?

> If you want the short story on startup success it can be summed up in one word overall, Execution.

I don't know. Execution is something you cannot "learn". Either you're good, or not. However, if your idea sucks and you fail to build a MVP, and you fail to ask for feedback, you risk wasting months of your life that you could have avoided. Or, your idea might be awesomely executed, but if you fail to market it properly, no one will know about it and you will fail.

If I followed even the steps I mentioned, I would be able to catch bad ideas before I spent months of my time and potentially hundred of thousands of dollars.

Just thinking outloud here.

Sorry, I didn't answer the first question you asked. I don't have a guide to link to, but my general guidelines for myself:

Curiosity always, Validation, Market, Team, Mockup, Validation, Market, Sales Commitments, Build Team, MVP, Actual Sales, Iteration.

In the early stage this is what a fledgling startup looks like to me. Curiosity around ideas, always asking questions and this should never stop ever. Validation of ideas once you feel you have found one or more. Validation is done by talking to real human beings who would be the potential target clients, Market is the market opportunity research and the targeting. Team may come right after market or may wait, but either way who are the people you will need to make it happen. Mockup is a simple PDF or wireframe mockup, not even code likely at this point. Validation again on the Mockup and market. Redefine the market and or product. Start getting sales commitments at this point, build out the team and the MVP and move into sales. Then you start iterating on Product and sales.

Of course, this is a gross overview, a ton of little steps go into all this, but for me this is how you start any basic business, regardless if you want to raise money or just be successful. It starts with Idea/Clients, then you start figuring out product. When I used to help startups a lot as my consulting clients this was almost always universally failed. They'd come with a product idea but almost 0 market validation or testing, so who knows what would work. Now, there are some greenfield projects where there just isn't a market because you are defining it, but that is the rarity and generally is started and funded differently IME.

Overall I agree but you also kinda proved my point. In the example you laid out, they didn't execute well enough on the business to make it a success. Execution isn't in the absence of marketing, product or idea, it is the key reason why startups fail though. A weakly put together but strongly executed marketing plan beats a superb plan that is executed poorly. Execution is what matters here, the plan can be revised over and over, but if you fail to execute it doesn't matter if the most brilliant person in that field put together the plan, you will fail.

Definitely plenty of room for varied opinions here, just my 2 cents as well.

Ah, I thought execution of the product itself.

However, you have to know you should do certain things to be able to execute them well. A lot of projects I've seen fail were well-made, but had crappy or no marketing.

The reason is that founders were tech guys, and you know how tech guys like to program and not email people :-)

Gotcha, yea, that is a communication failure on my point, my bad. And I agree, most tech people are to focused on what they are building and fail to do all the other steps, which is the failure to execute in my view.

There's a lot more to it than execution. The formula I like most is along the lines of:

Team * idea * product * execution * luck

They're all multipliers, and yes, the idea is very important too. There's a lot of great teams and executors going around with poor ideas, and they don't go as far as they should.

I kinda answered it in another comment too. I don't disagree that having a solid team is critical or a good product, but my point is that you can have a mediocre technical team that just keeps executing that will outperform rock stars who can get stuff done but can't execute completely. So it always boils down to execution.

A great product idea is nothing without being executed on, every day, every hour so that it is moving forward. I agree there are lots of factors that can be hard in a startup, but the single biggest issue is execution.

Even in raising money, you can have an amazing team and solid product idea, but if you execute poorly on the fundraise you will not get money or not get enough to make the idea come to reality.

I also 100% agree with you, all startups involve some lucky breaks, however, I have lots of friends who have had one or more lucky breaks and they failed to execute on them. So even luck isn't great unless you execute on it.

I'd argue a great team that is executing will see that the idea/product/concept is failing and start looking for a pivot to get it back on track because they are executing. Executing means you are setting goals, hitting goals, measuring progress, evaluating status and adjusting, if you aren't doing all of those then you aren't executing very well. And that happens at a macro and micro level at all stages, that is execution IMO.

I'll also agree that I don't know everything and plenty of people have valid concepts that have succeeded that may disagree with me. Totally fair, but IMO execution is the #1 reason startups fail and is the key to making them succeed in some form.

I think the multiplier effect explains it best. Like you can't have a company with 0 luck, but if you want to be a billion dollar company, you need right timing.

If you do everything moderately well and execute great, then you should have a multimillion dollar hit on your hands.

But I guess my opposition was to execution being the only factor. Like, I don't think Sergey Brin would have built Google had he stayed in the Soviet Union, no matter how smart and hardworking he is.

> You can obviously screw up a great market -- and that has been done, and not infrequently -- but assuming the team is baseline competent and the product is fundamentally acceptable, a great market will tend to equal success and a poor market will tend to equal failure. Market matters most.


The playbook is the closest thing to a checklist: https://playbook.samaltman.com/

A good deal of it is still relying on your own hustle and skill at solving problems. But these are really good, repeatable things to watch out for. Paul Graham's essays are also a must read, but they're less actionable.

What's your opinion on so many Startup books apart from Lean Startup, Zero to One. Should one read the typical 4-6 usually recommended or are there some hidden gems not talked about much? Though, personally I feel that after reading 2-3 books, rest of the bits can be acquired by the occasional blogposts. Also, these periodic blogposts are sometimes better as they help in reinforcing ideas/ important pointers which one might forget after reading a book. One aspect of books which can't always be replicated in blogposts are the case studies.

Most of it is crap.

Rule of thumb for anything, the harder books to read are often the best. So not simple blogs. Good ideas are difficult to explain.

I'd say Lean Startup and Zero to One actually lie on the "easy to understand" categories. The YC related stuff is a little harder but worth the effort.

Got it. Will be taking this year's online Startup School by YC starting in July. Thanks.


I think you have to stitch together the pieces from different guides/courses. For instance, I just released a React + Firebase course to ramp up your business [0] with a minimal tech stack. That's one piece you can use to "create [a] MVP". But all the other pieces you have to get from other books/courses/guides. I guess there is no guide yet covering it all except for a basic overview.

- [0] https://www.robinwieruch.de/the-road-to-react-with-firebase-...

Oh so nice to see someone else advocating the React+Firebase stack. That has been my go-to for a year now.

You need paying customers of some sort. If there's no monetization scheme, it isn't actually a business.

Also, on HN at least, most people talking about a startup are talking about something with strong growth that will get big fairly fast. They aren't talking about mom-and-pop shop levels of business success. So you could look into growth hacking.

There's no cut and dried formula here. You can read what other successful people say and try to educate yourself, but there is no slam dunk "Do x, y, and z and Profit!!!"

Paul Graham's essays are pretty popular around here, and with good reason.

Anyone selling/providing such a guide is probably deluded or, in worst case, a crook.

There could certainly be a guide to “creating a startup”. The “successful” part makes it a bit hairy though.

Jesus... So all those books about startups are published by crooks?

That's pretty radical.

If someone offered the advice "just follow these steps and you'll be successful" I would classify that as "snake oil". Or being a crook.

Most books in this category that I've read ("zero to one", "Lean Startup", etc. etc.) never literrally say that. They offer advice extrapolated from "this worked for us". Or common patterns that have lead to succes at some stage at some company.

Notice, they are not "step-by-step" guides to a successful startup. They are datapoints.

I see.

No guide can guarantee a successful startup. There are so many factors that you can and cannot control, even you have built a successful startup, the chance of building another one is not much greater.

I strongly recommend two books: - Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future - Lost and Founder: A Painfully Honest Field Guide to the Startup World

That's hard because after "get feedback" it branches out into too many directions. The only common things are bureaucratic. For ex: keep all your startup transactions in a separate bank account and credit card. Everything else product-side comes down to two steps:

Solve problems as they arrive, and hire people who've solved the problems already so you don't have to repeat work.

> That's hard because after "get feedback" it branches out into too many directions.

Sure, but if we were to try to generalize, we could create a flowchart like "feedback bad? iterate", "feedback good? continue", "feedback bad after 10 iterations? Scrap".

Since no one mentioned it so far I’m happy to recommend “Disciplined Entrepreneurship”, which I found more useful than Eric Ries’ book and very actionable. And above all, it really is a step by step guide:


For finding and validating an idea, you can read Lean Customer Development: https://www.amazon.com/Lean-Customer-Development-Building-Cu...

I highly recommend this book.

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