Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Things I’ve never heard a successful startup founder say (asmartbear.com)
356 points by jagira on Aug 15, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 97 comments



Great list! A few more:

We're so successful because we're smarter than everyone else.

We learned everything we needed to know in college.

Our technology was so good, it was only a matter of time before everyone found us.

Most of our unit tests were successful on the first run.

We were usually able to knock off at 5 p.m.

Customer service issues went pretty much as we expected.

We always knew better than our customers. Eventually, they realized that.

We always had plenty of time to spend with our family and friends.

We outsourced all of the technical work.

I'm so glad I spent so much time on Hacker News.


  > We always had plenty of time to spend with our family and 
  > friends.
If you cannot say that, I's say you failed.

  > We always knew better than our customers. Eventually,
  > they realized that.
Should I repeat Ford's saying about faster horse? And not doing focus groups hurts Apple so much…


> We always had plenty of time to spend with our family and > friends. > If you cannot say that, I's say you failed.

Doesn't "not having plenty of time to spend with our family and friends" follows directly from not winding up at 5?

Regardless of what you consider a failure, the hard fact is most of the businesses demand time - a lot of time. And there are only so many hours in a day. For the starting days, putting up south of 12 hours is common, and that takes a toll on the time you would have spent with your near and dear ones.



> We always knew better than our customers. Eventually, they realized that.

Pretty sure I've read quotes from Steve Jobs that follow that line of thinking actually.


Sadly, I know a few entrepreneurs that also think this way. They're not having much success, but cling to the notion that the world will 'wake up' and see things their way, eventually, some day, if they could just talk to enough people (and they usually cite Apple as their inspiration for this approach).

The Steve Jobs / Apple approach is more the exception that proves the rule, and even then, they've had their Newton moments too. What that proves is that with a successful enough company you can have a few failures. When you've only got the one product, you can't afford the luxury of your own Newton.


I think people take the ignoring customers as an on or off thing, but no company ignores what their customers want (including Apple).

What a good company does is never listen to only a single customer. What a good company does is listen to all customers and take that knowledge and solve the over arcing problem. Each individual customer is likely only seeing part of the problem and thus only asking for partial solutions. The problem is that they simply do not have the visibility to know the entire problem, and that's where a good 3rd party business comes into play.


The first thing Steve Jobs did when he returned to Apple was kill off the Newton. There's been the occasional slip, but nothing too ghastly (except the flower power iMacs).


why did he return to apple? everyone forget this, because he couldn't have the same luck at his second company.

also apple would have forwarded the osx success a couple years if the acquired beos instead of next. so that was steves luck acting again


"Why did he return to Apple?"

Because it was falling apart without him and that's the company he really wanted to run?

Think what you will about Steve Jobs but the idea that he's some hack who's milked an incredible streak of good luck is not going to win many people over.


How do you explain the success of Pixar, the company that Steve bought and eventually made him a billionaire?


This is like saying carl icahn is genius for making motorola mobile a success and making him a billionaire.

apple was a success because of woz. Jobs was good at milking it, that i will give him.

jobs wasted all his apple-money on next.

Pixar was more proof that even he never thought apple would be the hit it is today. i don't think they had a single mac there until 5yrs ago.


> Pixar was more proof that even he never thought apple would be the hit it is today.

The facts don't align with that theory. Steve Jobs left Apple in 1985. Toy Story was released in 1995. There wasn't any plausible path for Steve to return to Apple until 1996.


I'm no huge fan of the NeXT underpinnings of OS X, but the idea that using BeOS as an underlying operating system "would have forwarded the osx success a couple years" is silly.

Aside from the still-continuing claims of Be adherents and their Haiku descendants, BeOS was so very much Nothing Special and I find it highly unlikely the Magic BeOS Fairy Powder would have materially improved OS X.


But it demo'd so well!


it had an amazing multimedia framework. it had even patents for hardware stuff that put the later firewire to shame. and it had the best os api I've ever had to deal with.

it had everything that os8 lacked, and that later was added on osx only. except objectivec... but there were even compilers for that later on.

but thats not even my point. to downvote me above, first answer: how many clients next had?


BeOS was interesting on the surface and had a couple of neat ideas, but wasn't a substantial system underneath. Heck, it didn't even have the concept of user accounts and file ownership!

Anyone who laments the outcome of the Be/NeXT decision clearly knows little about just how much rock solid foundation came along with NeXT -- most notably the development tools and developer ecosystem.

The Mac ecosystem has experienced a consumer renaissance through iDevices/iOS, but also a geek renaissance through Mac OS X's UNIX underpinnings.

Classic Mac OS was derided as a toy (and in many technical respects it was), and BeOS would have done nothing long term to shed the Mac's toy image. Today, few people call OS X a toy.


Correct. NeXT and BeOS were respectively an over-engineered and under-engineered OS with a really good looking UI on top.


I find file permissions just an annoyance on my debian desktop that I share only with my wife. And I deal with unix security since the early 90's. OSX has file permissions and about 30% of them are setuid. Great improvement!

Also, BeOS had an Xwindow port months after it's death. OSX had it when?

IOS is a completely different beast. I don't even imagine why you are mentioning this. But the beos hybrid kernel would be good for that as well. heck it was even bought by palm for that purpose. sadly politics never moved it. even Next took a lot of time to be absorbed in apple ...and they had the ceo at their side.

About the tech that matter... there was nothing super new about objective C. ever heard of smalltalk? anyways, GNU implemented all that 3 years after NEXT, and they were not even being paid. Meanwhile Next were licensing PS from adobe for the interface just like SGI was doing for what? 10 years?

No matter how many buttons had your rock solid development tools. it was just like programming in VB. and if you wanted to do anything just a little different, you had to deal with awful apis and post script. heck, there's one layer of hell with the same name.

now, on the other hand, I invite you to read the BeOS book that is now opensourced... from oreilley if i'm not mistaken. Even the OS being dead now, it's the best read if you ever want to learn anything about elegant APIs design.

...i know all that is pointless... http://xkcd.com/386/#Duty_Calls ...but i just can't stand to see apple taking any underserved merit for being cool


> I find file permissions just an annoyance

Maybe for you. However Mac OS X does manage them well for you, which means that you can set up limited access and guest accounts on your computer without worrying about someone fucking it up or looking at your shit.

> IOS is a completely different beast. I don't even imagine why you are mentioning this.

I mentioned it because the products sparked a revival of the Apple brand in consumer's minds. But yeah, now you mention it, the technology did do a great job of scaling down to the phone. BeOS might have been fine too, but hey, Palm chose a Linux kernel instead.

We're discussing could-have-beens, which is pointless.

> there was nothing super new about objective C. ever heard of smalltalk?

With that line of argument, there's been nothing new in computer languages for thirty years.

I'm sure you love your BeBox and spend your life porting stuff like Firefox to Haiku, but as cool as BeOS was on the surface, the world has past it by. Stop lamenting what could have been, there's no interesting arguments to be had there.

> i just can't stand to see apple taking any underserved merit

Whereas giving too much credit to experimental failed projects like BeOS isn't?


But: BeOS couldn't print. End of story.

(I don't recall the details, but there was little to no printer support; certainly nothing comparable to classic MacOS. For Apple's core market at the time, that was the kiss of death.)


that's true. BeOS never got to the point of being a product.

After they noticed they had no money for the bebox they just pampered the OS for a sale. that's the main reason it looks so much like os7... or 8. it was being tweaked for an apple purchase.

printing was just a matter of paying the rights for the 'standards', again, they were steps before that point.

Also, linux didn't have decent print for the same reason. nobody paid pantone et al for color stuff licenses. heck, gimp didn't have CMKY until... does it have already? honestly, i gave up following it up.


Another one to add: "I am as good as Steve Jobs." ;)


I think the quote I've heard is that they don't bother with outside market research. That's different from simply ignoring customers.

Any sane company will tell you feedback is important, what can differ is where the feedback comes from, how it's interpreted, and whether customers have as much knowledge of what is or isn't possible/economical as the people at the company.

It's also important to note that companies like Apple are always trying new things, building strange prototypes, etc.. If a customer screams for Widget X, a company might try building a Widget X prototype, and discover it doesn't work so well in practice.


> If a customer screams for Widget X, a company might try building a Widget X prototype, and discover it doesn't work so well in practice.

_This._

It's a lesson I learned early on in my developer career: when customers ask for Widget X, it's often a symptom of an underlying problem that customers are trying to solve. Your role as a product developer is to understand the customer's underlying problem.

Discover what the problem is, and you might discover that they don't need a Widget X; maybe they need a Feature X or a Gadget X. Maybe it reveals holes in your training processes. Maybe they just revealed a seemingly trivial bug with existing stuff. Or maybe you realise you never understood why clients ever used your product until now.


I've heard successful people say half of those. Be carful not to paint yourself into the corner of conventional wisdom.


This made me lol while taking a swig of my lemonade...point for you ;p "I'm so glad I spent so much time on Hacker News."

...ok, not a constructive reply other than: laughter generates beneficial chemicals in the brain and it's good to be good to others...thanks! carry on. :)


"We'll share profits with employees that actually worked on the product we sold"


I'm so glad I spent so much time on Hacker News.

Hence, CTRL + W.


Hmmm, I had to CTRL + SHIFT + T that.


What does it do (nothing on OS X, apparently)?


Close the window. Same as Command+W.


Actually it closes the tab, not the window (unless there is only one tab.)


"We were usually able to knock off at 5 p.m"

Actually I am pretty sure I heard/read that a couple of times (or equivalent, not completely busting their asses).

"We always knew better than our customers. Eventually, they realized that."

Apple?


"We were usually able to knock off at 5 p.m."

That's what 37Signals always preaches.


>Our technology was so good, it was only a matter of time before everyone found us.

Google...


"Reading pithy superficial quotes about startups changed my companies trajectory."


Some more still:

"May I mambo dogface on the banana patch?"

"My hovercraft is full of eels"

"Colorless green ideas sleep furiously"

It turns out that this - "things I've never heard class of person X say" rhetorical device is a fine way to lend credence to what would otherwise be a simple collection of one-line assertions about how to do startups.

Not saying that I agree or disagree with many of the sentiments here, just that this is a very back-door way of adding authority to a bunch of statements. In the case of Jason Cohen, I'd pay attention if he just made the statements flat based on his own experience.


It turns out that this - "things I've never heard class of person X say" rhetorical device is a fine way to lend credence to what would otherwise be a simple collection of one-line assertions about how to do startups.

So? What's wrong with rhetorical devices? You can't win people over with logic alone. Believe me, I've tried.



You've also tried appeal to your own authority, but that's not working either, darn it!


"My lack of an MBA degree made building a company from scratch harder for me than for others."

Are all the entrepreneurs you've talked with the kind of people who made something like Wufoo or HARO? Because if you were trying to do a rollup or start a wireless company then I think having an MBA would make a pretty big difference.


At the risk of saying something heretical on HN, I wish we'd all stop the mindless MBA bashing. For every clueless MBA "idea guy" leaping headfirst into the tech world and flailing around like an idiot, there are plenty of newly minted MBAs entering the field and doing just fine for the companies that hire them. The old stereotype is largely a relic of the late-90s Dotcom Bubble, and I submit that it's not as representative as it once was.

There are plenty of folks out there who benefit from the business training and fundamentals an MBA curriculum provides. Obviously there are just as many people who don't need MBAs, or who succeeded without the degree. That's cool. Different strokes for different folks. Let's stop thinking in such Manichean terms about the degree.


"The old stereotype is largely a relic of the late-90s Dotcom Bubble"

That is why the "mindless bashing" is so important. It is a defence mechanism. It is vitally important that we remember from our past mistakes and codifying that knowledge into stereotypes is a great way of making sure that knowledge sticks around an is remembered.

Besides, I don't think many MBAs are losing sleep over a few techies on HN thinking that they're full of shit.


It's a defense mechanism for sure - but not for that reason. The real reason, in my view, is that techies are terrible at recognizing intelligence/skill if it does not somehow relate to math, logic, or, more concretely, code. I have no idea why, but the shoe fits.

When presented with the numerous and obvious counter-examples to "MBA's are full of shit", they clam up and resort to "yeah, but they're assholes, immoral, and basically stole their way to the top".

If you can't code, you're not smart. And if you're not smart, how are you more successful than me? (Success is derived from smarts, right? Dammit, I'm SMART.) Therefore you must be a cheating douche bag. And man, there are a lot of you cheating douche bags.

No, the problem is not the MBA. It is the refusal of some to accept a broader world view in which different people can do great things despite vastly varying approaches and skills.


"It's a defense mechanism for sure - but not for that reason. The real reason, in my view, is that techies are terrible at recognizing intelligence/skill if it does not somehow relate to math, logic, or, more concretely, code. I have no idea why, but the shoe fits."

I really don't agree. I have/had nothing against business people (they always threw way better parties in college after all ;).

Similarly, MBAs are great at running businesses. The trouble arises when we do what we did in the 90s and let them drive the businesses, make the businesses, that sort of thing.

The issue can be summed up I think as MBAs squeezing out high status technologists (http://www.codebelay.com/blog/2011/08/14/low-status-and-high...). When that happens, the 90s happen. To fight this perceived threat, we have negative stereotypes that keep people on their toes. They are essentially antibody memes.


<i>Similarly, MBAs are great at running businesses. </i>

Incorrect. An MBA is only proven to be great at one thing. Getting a Masters in Business degree.


"That is why the "mindless bashing" is so important."

Totally fair, but then, I chose the descriptor "mindless" for a good reason. I used it to distinguish a certain type (a subset, if you will) of bashing, i.e., the senseless kind. Not all bashing is senseless, but a lot of it is.

There is certainly justified bashing, of the "Some schmucky MBA I've never met just emailed me and asked me to code his Facebook-meets-Amazon-meets-Holodeck project for $1000" variety. That kind of bashing makes sense.

But the carpet-bashing of all MBAs, or of the MBA-qua-MBA, has perhaps grown a little stale.

(Did I really just use the phrase "carpet-bashing"?)


> start a wireless company then I think having an MBA would make a pretty big difference.

How would an MBA make a pretty big difference for a wireless company?


The problem with a large up front capital type of company like wireless is that you have to convince someone to give you that capital. If you're begging people for money and reputation is your only collateral, then an MBA from a big school helps (plus the likely connections you formed while attending said school). It certainly doesn't help as much as say already having been a CxO at a wireless company, but it is just one more checkbox to help convince people to give you money.


Why?


Because not every business is composed of four hackers around a kitchen table?


Of course not. But how is the MBA helping them?


In my experience, an MBA or equivalent (meaning someone with experience building/running a business) adds value mostly through pattern recognition. In a startup, it is easy to get lost in the noise and go down many wrong paths. An MBA should be able to use their experience and knowledge to guide the company to better paths more cheaply, quickly, and efficiently. And of course, later on, grow the fledging organization (e.g. hiring, scaling the organization, etc.).

I meet and advise many entrepreneurs and most of the time they fall into common traps stemming from lack of understanding of market dynamics, how companies make decisions, what companies worry about, what matters, etc. A common example: thinking about cost and not value when it comes to selling a(n enterprise) product. Or forgetting about risk management for their new cloud-based solution.

For tech startups, there is no question that everyone on the early team needs to understand, live, and breathe technology. A lot of folks are attracted to the Facebook-size wealth generation (including MBAs) and end up destroying value because they don't understand technology.

Full disclosure: I have an MBA. I also have been programming since I was 9 and have built and sold two companies. I fully believe that a lot of MBAs don't add value when it comes to startups in particular (see Steve Blank's recent posts explaining why) and many times in mature companies as well. Of course, that is true for people in general - i.e. there are many engineers, designers, marketing folks, etc. who are just not very good at their jobs. It all comes down to looking for the exceptional gems!


I am willing to bet that you are confusing abilities you already had with abilities the MBA gave you.

Most people with MBA aren't like you and thus won't reap the benefits of perspective.


Could be. After all, MBA is meant to train managers, not entrepreneurs. That's what has always surprised me about the common sentiment towards MBAs: why does everyone expect all MBAs to be amazing entrepreneurs out of the box? We don't have a similar expectation for anyone else. It might have something to do with the attitude (especially during the last boom) - but that's a story for a different time.


Believe it or not, they actually do teach useful skills in B School. And more often than not the grads jump into a career in big business at a significantly higher level than they were at before they got an MBA.

The doors that open up are numerous - like being able to credibly get in front of the right private equity firm interested in doing a wireless roll-up.

There's no magic here. It's just work and education.


That is simply because large organisations have decided that's the way up.

It speaks nothing of whether one become better at doing business what so ever.

I have worked with my share of MBAs they are as diverse as any other group but none of them owe it to their MBA.


It's just a degree. No more no less. My engineering degree helped me to be a better engineer. My MBA helped me to be better at business. Education is good.


There is a very big difference between engineering and business and I am kind of surprised that you would make an argument to the contrary.

Your engineering degree help you become better at engineering because you can more or less predict the outcome of how things behave. The theories are seldomly proven wrong.

If the matter you control in engineering were made of "business matter" life would be much more dangerous than it already is. Humans don't follow the laws of physics the same way.

You seem to be confusing doing good inside larger organizations with being good at business. There is little to no correlation.

Being good at business is more like being good at music. Education is no guarantee for success. Feel free to prove me wrong.


I only have my own experience. And the MBA was as valuable to me, if not more valuable, than my engineering degree. I'm not saying you need an MBA (or that I need one). I am saying that there is value in an MBA, and it goes beyond a rubber stamp demanded by big business.

There is real, honest value in bringing a bunch of smart people from a wide range of backgrounds together for two years to study the way people behave while engaging in commerce. That the nature of business is poorly described by physical laws makes it no less worthy of study. There are good and bad ways to do accounting, finance, operations - even marketing. Why not learn about it? And if you do learn about it, how can that be a bad thing?

Education is about learning how to think. My engineering profs and peers taught me a lot about one way to approach problems. My business school professors and peers taught me an equally useful, and almost completely orthogonal outlook on life.


Accounting, finance and operations have nothing to do with "doing business" in any meaningful way.

They are necessary yes, so is cleaning, your systemadministration etc.

You are not learning how to run a business successfully by learning that.

But the big difference is that to be good at business you have to do business. You can't look it up in a book. With engineering your more or less can.

So unless you are a hired gun working inside a proven industry for a company the MBA is pretty much worthless. The engineer on the other hand seldom is.


In my 10 person company, stuff like finance / cash management, distribution, statistics, operations, marketing, and sales are pretty crucial.

Probably more so than the cleaning of the office (which is handled by the building).

Maybe we are an outlier though.


I'll agree to disagree. I don't believe engineering is any more easily learned from a book than business is. Different skills, for sure. But you won't find the hard part of either in a book. That doesn't make formal study of either subject "worthless".


I didn't say it was more easily learned. What I said was that what you learn in engineering you can apply in one to one relationship and it will work.

When you deal with business you deal with humans not immaterial matter.

That's thee difference here. And for that no amount of education is going to make you more successful. Again feel free to prove me wrong.


How are you going to convince folks in their 60s and 70s to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in something completely unproven if, at the very least, you haven't studied corporate finance and corporate strategy at HBS or Wharton or wherever? Once you get to a certain level just being able to impress Paul Graham or Dave McClure isn't going to cut it anymore.


> How are you going to convince folks in their 60s and 70s to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in something completely unproven if, at the very least, you haven't studied corporate finance and corporate strategy at HBS or Wharton or wherever?

That doesn't make any sense at all. For something completely unproven, corporate finance doesn't even come into picture. I don't know how your wireless example relate to this, since wireless isn't completely unproven - more like "it works and we have a lot of base to build onto.

Let's say we are talking about self-driving cars, as an example of something completely unproven which is well served by millions of dollars. Corporate finance and strategy aren't going to drive that car for sure.


I think folks will be more comfortable handing over vast sums into a business if the people at the helm have significant knowledge of responsibly handling vast sums of money.

The MBA is one indication that a person is responsible handling* vast sums of money. Having some actual experience handling vast sums of money is even better. Without that experience though, the MBA is the next best thing.

* By responsible handling of money, I mean things like having made concious decisions about the debt structure of the business, hedging risks (eg. use of forward contracts to hedge currency risks), care between capital and revenue expenditure for tax purposes. To say nothing of the other areas of the MBA to understand how the different functions of the business work together. And if you're building a large business you're going to have different functions of the business so folks feel more comfortable knowing that the guy in charge knows about these different functions and how they operate.


I know a few people in the asset and treasury management areas and none of them are MBAs - they mostly qualified as accountants or actuaries early in their career (often on top of higher maths degrees) and then go on to become hyper specialized.


I know several MBAs who have no experience handling large sums of money. The whole argument have no basis in reality.


Huh?

So they don't look at whether I have a sound business but whether I have an MBA when they are in their 60s and 70s???

Care to give some examples?

Are you really arguing what I think you are arguing?


Wireless companies are completely unproven? We've been doing them for nearly a century now...


No, but four hackers around a kitchen table can start a wireless company.

Do people actually come straight out of an MBA program and start a company that requires hundreds of millions of dollars in funding?

I feel I would be skeptical of anyone who wasn't already sitting around a kitchen table with hackers at some point in their life and, more importantly, have shown they have some ability to run a successful business that didn't require the massive funding.


A few more:

- I don't need to worry about the product. I hired someone for that.

- Hiring is for HR.

- I will be spending August on an island in the South Pacific.

- It is ok to miss payroll.

- Our value add to the customer-centric value chain is based on world class process excellence principles.

- That's not my job.


"- That's not my job."

I've seen worse...an agreeing head nod that he'll do something...then months of passive aggressive cat and mouse games to get it out of him...only to find it's simply not been done.


I've heard the 3rd one a few times.


After the startup succeeded or before? :-)


After


The company structure can matter a lot. IANAL, but my understanding is that an LLC is not an appropriate choice for a company that hopes to be acquired or issue an IPO.

So don't obsess over it, but be sure you have competent advisers including an attorney who can help you make the right choice in such matters.


I don't know about US, but here in India, you can re-incorporate. I don't see how that can be an issue - operate as a LLC(if you have reasons to) - re-incorporate later when you are becoming a potential acquisition target. I don't think whoever is going to acquire you will decide not to just because you are going to re-incorporate.


In the US, you can form a corporation and then merge your LLC into it, thus tranforming your LLC into a corp. So yeah, it may lead to extra work down the road, but it's not a life-or-death decision at the beginning.


I've witnessed the first one...


The first one was definitely a mantra of the Google-acquired start-up I used to work for. My boss was unhappy with existing software in our field of expertise, so we set out to build something that makes us happy, not other people. It helped that we (especially my boss) knew more about the field than nearly all of our customers, so our customers bandwaggoning on our software was not surprising to me.


Yeah, I've witnessed the first one succeed wonderfully, and it's exactly what you're talking about - they built exactly what they envisioned because they were frustrated with existing solutions, and the customers came in droves.


Yes, building what you know is right is satisfying, but can be a hard road. You have to educate at every level.

Ask a farmer in 1900 what he wanted, he would have said "A stronger horse that eats less oats". Never would he have said "a tractor".


I thought I was going to work less starting my own company than when I had a corporate job.


One I've never heard:

We were an overnight success.


"We owe our success to ITIL certification before launching. Period."


"Changing the world is nice, but I mainly did it for the money."


What about:

After I found my great co-founder(s) we had never had to bother with other employees.


In my own personal experience this list seems kind of dubious. I've never said any of those things and I'm not a successful entrepreneur.

Must be something more to it than a list of Bad Words (tm).


Spending all that time on finding a great name paid off.


I think the founders of Mint.com could have said that.


I disagree. There are examples of companies that did well with mediocre names, but it certainly doesn't hurt to have a great one, and it really can hurt to have a bad one.


Our most effective marketing campaigns where the ones filled with buzzwords and non-specific claims.

s/where/were/


'Actually, we just inadvertently happened to be in the right place at the right time. We got lucky.'


"I regret having done a startup"




Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact

Search: