Resources for Startup Founders



There’s a lot of startup advice out there. Much of it is useless.

When quantity increases and quality declines, curation becomes valuable [1]. So I’ve put together some of the resources that I found most useful in my own journey [2]. I’ve organized them by theme:

There is a lot of material here, and for that I make no excuses. If you’re serious about building a startup, you have to put in the work. I know of no successful founders who are not also learning machines [3].




Oracles

Let’s start with the classics. You can’t be part of the tech ecosystem without knowing these books, internalizing their language, and understanding the (collective, not always perfectly overlapping) worldview they espouse:

These 5 writers are essential to understanding the modern era of tech (2009 to 2019: Uber’s founding to WeWork’s non-IPO). You can find all of them in this excellent series of videos with accompanying notes and resources.

Back to Top ↩




Ideas

There’s a common startup trope that ideas are unimportant, and execution is what counts. I disagree; I think ideas matter. They matter because to make anything worthwhile takes time. And as a founder, I would hate to spend 5 to 10 years of my life doing something that is irrelevant, or uninteresting, or inconsequential.

How do you find a good idea? How do you find a problem worth solving?

Back to Top ↩




Product

Once you have an idea, the next step is to build a product: in its broadest sense, a way to meet your users’ needs. This could be a piece of software, a system or process, a venue, a tool, a resource, or something else; the key is that it solves a problem, and is hence something people want.

Building and delivering the right product, efficiently and effectively, tying together the needs of different “stakeholders” (company, customers, investors, counterparties, engineering, sales, marketing, customer success, design and more) is what product managers do. Here are some product management resources I’ve found useful over the years:

Back to Top ↩




Growth

So you have an idea, and you’ve built a product. What next? Growth: by which I mean, getting users, getting revenue, and getting to scale. Paul Graham famously says that startups are defined by growth.

In the early days, there is no formula. You have to figure out what works slowly, iteratively, often fortuitously.

In the later stages of a startup, it’s exactly the opposite. There is a well-established body of best practices on how to grow a business – any business. Indeed, the maturation and codification of these techniques is one of the key features of our current startup era.

Back to Top ↩




Metrics

Back to Top ↩




Comments

Most of these articles are relevant for early stage founders, ie, from zero till about Series B. After that, founders typically have access to far better and more focused sources of expertise than articles on the internet, no matter how insightful.

This material is a few years old. The best current wisdom is to be found in operational docs (decks & memos) or on Twitter; it hasn’t yet been collected into books or blog posts.

I welcome recommendations for new articles to add to this list – please email me your suggestions!

A final vital piece of advice: think for yourself. You can’t build a startup the way you build a piece of IKEA furniture, by following instructions. Reading all these articles is just table stakes; the necessary context and framework and background required for you to make smart, contrarian, correct decisions. But only you can make those decisions.

Back to Top ↩



Footnotes

[1] Why this decline in quality and increase in quantity?

Back in the early 2010s, a number of VCs discovered the power of blogging to attract talented founders [1a], and they competed with each other to share their secrets with the world. It was a golden age.

Unfortunately, the very success of this content marketing strategy attracted more creators. Not everybody has great insights to share, and the competition for eyeballs is fierce, so the content on offer rapidly devolved into platitudes or click-bait. The median “how to startup” article published today is pretty terrible.

[1a] Good content boosts your profile as an investor; it attracts the kinds of founders you want to invest in; and it makes them more likely to pick you as their partner. VC is a business with funnels and conversion rates just like any other!

[2] I was a first-time founder; so was my partner Tammer. While we’re both engineers, neither of us had ever worked in technology firms, or startups, or in Silicon Valley, prior to starting Quandl. What strikes me looking back is how little we knew, and how much we learned along the way.

[3] If you can benefit from other people’s wisdom (instead of learning yourself by trial and error or deducing everything from first principles), why wouldn’t you?

Back to Top ↩




Startups

The only startup advice you'll ever need.