How To Be A Successful Startup … Go For Rapid Growth?

Paul Graham published an essay this past weekend titled “Startup = Growth” and while I recommend it to all, I couldn’t help but find myself disagreeing with his main point. Heresy I know, as I can only dream of having the amount of startup knowledge PG possesses, but I’m not gonna give him a free pass just because of who he is. I decided I should write a post about my issues, but before I was able to finish, Mark Suster beat me to it. His response, “Is going for rapid growth always good? Aren’t startups so much more?” highlighted many of the same issues I had with PG’s essay, but far more eloquently than I could have hoped to.  That being said, I felt compelled to finish what I started and add my two cents on the topic.

PG’s overarching theme is that a company is only truly a startup if it achieves massive, rapid growth, and as such, growth should be their only focus. I found this statement tough to swallow. While I agree that the term “startup” might be thrown around a bit too cavalier these days, this definition seems overly restrictive. I think a more fair statement would be if you want to be an ultra-disruptive and hugely successful startup, (AKA one that PG wants to invest in) you need rapid growth. Without it you probably won’t ever be a $500+ million company, but that doesn’t mean your company is not a startup or that it can’t be successful.

Mark Suster makes a similar point in his article. He uses the first startup he founded as an example of a company that did not experience nor-strive for rapid growth, but was nonetheless a success. He goes on to say that he blames this SV culture of wanting only rapid growth as a contributing factor for many recent failed ventures that might otherwise been avoided if the companies had been less pressured to be HUGE, and instead, been more patient with their growth. PG is looking at this from an investor’s perspective and not a founder’s perspective. The majority of the money he makes is from hitting big homeruns. So despite the fact that a $30-50 million deal can have a profound positive impact for both founders and employees lives, it doesn’t move the needle for a big time investor such as PG.

My other main issue with PG’s article was the insistence that a startup’s only focus should be on growth, and achieving it by any means necessary (PG footnotes this point saying that the long-term benefits must outweigh the costs). I know startups need to grow in order to command high valuations, so in theory that should mean that growth is all that matters (especially from an investor’s perspective), but why can’t they be about more than that? What about creating a startup that helps change the world positively but slowly, or one that is hugely helpful for a small but dedicated core group of users, or something that is much more long-tailed and so rapid growth is not part of their plan, or anything that the primary focus isn’t purely about growth? Maybe I am being overly idealistic, but part of the reason I decided to ditch my finance career path in favor of startups is because I thought they allowed for more diverse ways of measuring success… that they didn’t necessarily have to be driven purely by the desire to maximize profits. But if our focus should purely be on growth then that doesn’t seem to be all that different.

I want to emphasize that I found PG’s post to be very educational, and I highly recommend it, but I think he needed to clarify that he is discussing this subject from an investor’s standpoint. I am curious to hear your guys’ opinions on the relationship between startups and growth in the comments.

Uncle Sam, Stop Preventing Progress

The entrepreneurship bug has taken hold in America… I LOVE IT! It’s tough talking to anyone these days without startups being mentioned; whether they just discovered a new one, they’re thinking about joining one, or they have an idea for one. Startups are in vogue, or as one recent blog post I saw on HN put it, Startup is the new Hipster. Yet all is not roses and butterflies in this new landscape dominated by “rock stars” and “ninjas”.

Recently Uber, the amazing town car and taxi service, has been in the news because of legislative threats in the cities they operate. Their service threatens the business of longtime taxi operators, who haven’t taken kindly to the recent competition. As a result, they’re using their friends in government to try to strong-arm Uber into shutting down. Luckily those attempts have failed so far, but it got me thinking about the future of super-disruptive startups in America, and how their biggest obstacle might very well be the government.

Recent attacks on Uber as well as legislature such as SOPA, ACTA and PIPA demonstrate that the American Government is more concerned with keeping the status quo and protecting their special interest groups, then fostering innovation and advancement. Of course there are outliers in government who are trying to facilitate change, but they’re in the minority. It is a sad commentary given that our country was itself a radical shift from what was considered the norm, a startup of sorts, less than 350 years ago. You could write a thesis on how our government has become so stale, and I’m sure someone has and I’d love to read it, but the more important question now is; how can we right the ship?

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Make Your Email More Efficient

I’m using my email more than ever these days, so making sure it provides maximum utility has become something I take very seriously. I have been trying different 3rd party add-ons to help with a variety of things: organization, reminders, information, automation and more. All of these add-ons are free, so I figured in lieu of donations the least I could do was give some positive press about the three that I’ve found to be most useful. So without further ado… if you are looking for ways to improve your email productivity and experience, I highly recommend checking out the following products.

       ● Rapportive: www.rapportive.com

“Rapportive shows you everything about your contacts right inside your inbox.”

Whenever you send or receive an email, Rapportive displays an array of personal information to the left of the email. This includes: a picture, their name, links to their social media accounts (which you can scroll over to see their most recent activity), as well as any personal notes you have added about them. Rapportive has helped me make my emails more personalized by having quick access to information about my recipients. Here is what it looks like when I send an email to myself:

My Rapportive

(Note to self: add my Quora to account)

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