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#276 Paul Graham’s Essays Part 2
November 9th, 2022 | E276

What I learned from reading Paul Graham’s essays.


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[4:01] You don't want to start a startup to do something that everyone agrees is a good idea, or there will already be other companies doing it. You have but that you know isn't to do something that sounds to most other people like a bad idea.

[5:20] The independent-minded are often unaware how different their ideas are from conventional ones, at least till they state them publicly.

[6:20] Founders find themselves able to speak more freely with founders of other companies than with their own employees.

[7:40] There are intellectual fashions too, and you definitely don't want to participate in those. Because unfashionable ideas are disproportionately likely to lead somewhere interesting. The best place to find undiscovered ideas is where no one else is looking.

[8:30] How much does the work you're currently doing engage your curiosity? If the answer is "not much," maybe you should change something.

[9:00] How To Think For Yourself by Paul Graham

[9:00] How To Work Hard by Paul Graham

[10:00] Hackers and Painters by Paul Graham

[11:00] Paul on Twitter: "Maybe better founders could have..." Presumably Patrick knows what he means by that, but in case it's not clear, he's describing the empty set. If Patrick and John Collison had to work long hours to build something great, you will too. Link to tweet

[13:00] Less is more but you have to do more to get to less. — Rick Rubin: In the Studio by Jake Brown. (Founders #245)

[13:00] If great talent and great drive are both rare, then people with both are rare squared.

[14:30] Can’t Hurt Me by David Goggins

[15:30] Aliens, Jedis, & Cults

[16:30] How To Do What You Love by Paul Graham

[19:00] Fear's a powerful thing. I mean it's got a lot of firepower. If you can figure out a way to wrestle that fear to push you from behind rather than to stand in front of you, that's very powerful. I always felt that I had to work harder than the next guy, just to do as well as the next guy. And to do better than the next guy, I had to just kill.

And you know, to a certain extent, that's still with me in how I work, you know, I just go in. —Jimmy Iovine

[20:00] Many problems have a hard core at the center, surrounded by easier stuff at the edges. Working hard means aiming toward the center to the extent you can. Some days you may not be able to; some days you'll only be able to work on the easier, peripheral stuff. But you should always be aiming as close to the center as you can without stalling.

[22:00] Find work that feels like play. —The Almanack of Naval Ravikant: A Guide to Wealth and Happiness by Naval Ravikant and Eric Jorgenson. (Founders #191)

[23:00] A deep interest in a topic makes people work harder than any amount of discipline can.

[23:00] Mozart: A Life by Paul Johnson. (Founders #240)

[25:00] Working hard is not just a dial you turn up to 11. It's a complicated, dynamic system that has to be tuned just right at each point. You have to understand the shape of real work, see clearly what kind you're best suited for, aim as close to the true core of it as you can, accurately judge at each moment both what you're capable of and how you're doing, and put in as many hours each day as you can without harming the quality of the result. This network is too complicated to trick. But if you're consistently honest and clearsighted, it will automatically assume an optimal shape, and you'll be productive in a way few people are.

[26:00] How to Lose Time and Money by Paul Graham

[30:00] Schlep Blindness by Paul Graham

[31:00] A company is defined by the schleps it will undertake. And schleps should be dealt with the same way you'd deal with a cold swimming pool: just jump in. Which is not to say you should seek out unpleasant work per se, but that you should never shrink from it if it's on the path to something great.

[33:00] What I’ve Learned From Users by Paul Graham

[34:00] The first thing that came to mind was that most startups have the same problems. No two have exactly the same problems, but it's surprising how much the problems remain the same, regardless of what they're making. Once you've advised 100 startups all doing different things, you rarely encounter problems you haven't seen before.

[34:00] Today I talked to a startup doing so well that they had no current problems that needed solving. Profitable, growing ~20x a year (not a typo), only 9 employees. This is so rare that I didn't know what to do. We ended up talking about problems they might have in the future.

I advised them never to raise another round, so to get equity you're going to have to get hired there. So learn to program. Link to tweet

[35:00] But knowing (nearly) all the problems startups can encounter doesn't mean that advising them can be automated, or reduced to a formula.

[37:00] It's not about pop culture, and it's not about fooling people, and it's not about convincing people that they want something they don't. We figure out what we want.

And I think we're pretty good at having the right discipline to think through whether a lot of other people are going to want it, too. —Steve Jobs

[39:00] That was another big surprise: how often founders don't listen to us.

[39:00] Damn Right: Behind the Scenes with Berkshire Hathaway Billionaire Charlie Munger by Janet Lowe. (Founders #221)

[40:00] The reason startups are so counterintuitive is that they're so different from most people's other experiences. No one knows what it's like except those who've done it.

[42:00] Speed defines startups. Focus enables speed. YC improves focus.

[42:00] Alexander combined an excessive tolerance of fatigue with an intolerence for slowness. Alexander the Great: The Brief Life and Towering Exploits of History's Greatest Conqueror--As Told By His Original Biographers (Founders #232)

[43:00] However good you are, good colleagues make you better. Indeed, very ambitious people probably need colleagues more than anyone else, because they're so starved for them in everyday life.

[45:00] Leading By Design: The Ikea Story (Founders #104)

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