What’s the best way to know if your idea is a good one?

David Cummings (Managing Partner at Shotput Ventures)
Minimum Viable Product or Minimum Acceptable Product | David Cummings on Startups

One rule of thumb I like is that the minimum viable product should be built and launched in 90 days with the minimum acceptable product no more than 45 days after that.

What’s the best way to interview customers?

David Cummings (Managing Partner at Shotput Ventures)
Live Chat for Sales and Customer Service | David Cummings on Startups

Live chat is incredibly powerful for sales and customer service. If you can staff it with a product expert, it’s worth running a two week trial and assessing the results. Here are a few tips when using live chat: Consider using it on more critical pages like pricing and FAQ instead of all pages. Running it inside the web app for support is a great way to engage with customers and trial users in the context of their product usage. Connect the live… (read more)

What’s the best way to improve your sign-up page?

David Cummings (Managing Partner at Shotput Ventures)
Account Sign-up Page Best Practices | David Cummings on Startups

Remove all unnecessary links, which are usually 90% of the ones of the page. Minimize the header and text as much as possible. Then, cut it down even further. Reduce the number of fields, especially required fields, to the bare minimum. Once you have someone’s email address you can always market to them later to fill out more fields. Keep all the fields in the form above the fold so that the user doesn’t have to scroll down at all. Test and enfor… (read more)

What’s the best way to get your first customers?

David Cummings (Managing Partner at Shotput Ventures)
10 Ideal Customers are More Important than 30 Random Customers | David Cummings on Startups

[When you’re looking for product/market fit], signing 10 customers that fit your ideal customer profile is more important than signing a large number of random customers in the near-term. Customers will always ask for product enhancements, so it’s key that requests align with the entrepreneur’s vision of the future. Ideal customers are going to be happier customers and happier customers are going to provide testimonials as well as references for … (read more)

What’s the best way to form your initial team?

David Cummings (Managing Partner at Shotput Ventures)
Startups Should Say No to 99% of Partnership Opportunities | David Cummings on Startups

Startups should say no to 99% of partnership opportunities. Most partnerships never go anywhere and don’t make sense for the startup to invest significant effort into the relationship due to being time and money constrained. Partnership opportunities do make sense when there is significant skin in the game on behalf of the partner (e. g. large up-front fees) or a super minimal way to work together (e. g. less than 20 hours of work to get somethin… (read more)

What’s the best way to communicate with potential investors?

David Cummings (Managing Partner at Shotput Ventures)
Entrepreneurs and Calls from VC Associates | David Cummings on Startups

In the end, most entrepreneurs shouldn’t engage with associates unless they’re going to raise money in the near-term and they’ve pre-qualified the firm to ensure it’s a good fit. If getting ready to raise money, associates can be a good testing ground and opportunity to practice the pitch or make an ask at the end of the call to be introduced to three portfolio companies that might be potential customers.

What’s the best way to know if your idea is a good one?

Jessica Livingston (Co-Founder & Partner @
Y Combinator)

Twitter

Denial is the secret killer of startups.

Hunter Walk (Founder & Partner at Homebrew)
The Most Difficult Question I Ask Founders | Hunter Walk

The most difficult question for some founders is “why do you want to spend 10 years of your life working on solving this problem. ”

Larry Page (CEO & Founder at Alphabet)
Mergers must meet the toothbrush test

Is it something you will use once or twice a day, and does it make your life better?

Mark Suster (Managing Partner at Upfront Ventures)
Why Your Startup is More Likely to Succeed if You’re Authentic and Passionate | Bothsides of the Table

Running a startup is a grind. It wears you down. It’s full of mostly stresses and set backs. It requires absolute dedication, commitment and drive – even when things seem hopeless. When I’ve seen extreme success up close I can tell you it comes with absolute dedication to being number one 24/7 to the point of crowding out nearly everything else in your life. It’s why being an entrepreneur isn’t for everybody. But if you’re going to try and compet… (read more)

Saras Sarasvathy (Member of the Strategy, Entrepreneurship and Ethics area at the Darden School of Business)
The Affordable Loss Principle

Entreprenuer[s] set an upper bound on what he or she is willing to lose in order to start the venture. “In the worst-case scenario, I will lose the money and will be back in the job market in two years.”

Ben Horowitz (Co-Founder & Partner @ Andreessen Horowitz)
Programming Your Culture – Ben’s Blog

The second thing that any technology startup must do is to take the market. If it’s possible to do something 10X better, it’s also possible that you won’t be the only company to figure that out. Therefore, you must take the market before somebody else does. Very few products are 10X better than the competition, so unseating the new incumbent is much more difficult than unseating the old one.”

Slava Akhmechet (Founder at RethinkDB)
57 startup lessons

Starting with the right idea matters. Empirically, you can only pivot so far.

Slava Akhmechet (Founder at RethinkDB)
57 startup lessons

Work on a problem that has an immediately useful solution, but has enormous potential for growth. If it doesn’t augment the human condition for a huge number of people in a meaningful way, it’s not worth doing. For example, Google touches billions of lives by filling a very concrete space in people’s daily routine. It changes the way people behave and perceive their immediate physical surroundings. Shoot for building a product of this magnitude

Slava Akhmechet (Founder at RethinkDB)
57 startup lessons

Beware of chicken and egg products. Make sure your product provides immediate utility.

Tacklebox (Smart and Simple Shipping)
Customer Interviews: So you’ve decided to take your startup seriously. — Medium

Are you building a pain killer or a vitamin? Do people need a solution to this problem, or is it a “nice to have”? How do customers solve this problem now? What’s the exact process? How do they feel during this process? What are the biggest pain points? Specific products, workarounds, “hacks,” etc. How much money/time does this problem cost people now? If you can, get a sense of how much they’d pay to have it solved properly. Who has this problem… (read more)

Ben Erez (Product at Breeze)
22 Mistakes I Made as a First Time Founder — Viabilify

Only once you pass the threshold of knowing “enough” about an industry, can you really get the insights to have intelligent conversations with the people you need to know. In other words, knowing Fred Wilson is one thing but knowing Fred Wilson and being able to impress him with your knowledge of a space he’s interested in? Those are two very different outcomes for you. As a founder, you absofuckinglutely need to know your shit! There are no sh… (read more)

Entreprenuer Media (http://www.entrepreneur.com/)
The Best Ways to Do Market Research for Your Business Plan

1. Who are your customers? Describe them in terms of age, occupation, income, lifestyle, educational attainment, etc. 2. What do they buy now? Describe their buying habits relating to your product or service, including how much they buy, their favored suppliers, the most popular features and the predominant price points. 3. Why do they buy? This is the tricky one, attempting as it does to delve into consumers’ heads. 4. What will make them buy fr… (read more)

Paul Graham (Co-Founder & Partner at Y Combinator)
What Doesn’t Seem Like Work?

The stranger your tastes seem to other people, the stronger evidence they probably are of what you should do. What seems like work to other people that doesn’t seem like work to you?

Paul Graham (Co-Founder & Partner at Y Combinator)
What Doesn’t Seem Like Work?

The stranger your tastes seem to other people, the stronger evidence they probably are of what you should do. What seems like work to other people that doesn’t seem like work to you?

Paul Graham (Co-Founder & Partner at Y Combinator)
How to Be an Expert in a Changing World

Most really good startup ideas look like bad ideas at first, and many of those look bad specifically because some change in the world just switched them from bad to good.

Paul Graham (Co-Founder & Partner at Y Combinator)
Frighteningly Ambitious Startup Ideas

The biggest startup ideas are terrifying. And not just because they’d be a lot of work. The biggest ideas seem to threaten your identity: you wonder if you’d have enough ambition to carry them through.

Paul Graham (Co-Founder & Partner at Y Combinator)
Startups in 13 Sentences

Understand your users. You can envision the wealth created by a startup as a rectangle, where one side is the number of users and the other is how much you improve their lives. The second dimension is the one you have most control over. And indeed, the growth in the first will be driven by how well you do in the second.

Paul Graham (Co-Founder & Partner at Y Combinator)
How Not to Die

Another feeling that seems alarming but is in fact normal in a startup is the feeling that what you’re doing isn’t working. The reason you can expect to feel this is that what you do probably won’t work. Startups almost never get it right the first time. Much more commonly you launch something, and no one cares. Don’t assume when this happens that you’ve failed. That’s normal for startups. But don’t sit around doing nothing. Iterate.

Paul Graham (Co-Founder & Partner at Y Combinator)
Why to Not Not Start a Startup

In a sense, it’s not a problem if you don’t have a good idea, because most startups change their idea anyway. In the average Y Combinator startup, I’d guess 70% of the idea is new at the end of the first three months. Sometimes it’s 100%.

Sam Altman (President at Y Combinator)
FarmLogs – Sam Altman

Technology is about doing more with less. This is important in a lot of areas, but few as important as natural resources.

Sam Altman (President at Y Combinator)
Electrons and Atoms – Sam Altman

The key thing is enabling users to do things they do in real life much more easily yes, you could have called a cab company, but it took a long time, the cab didn’t always come, you didn’t know when it was near, you had to have cash or get a nasty look from the cabbie, etc.

Sam Altman (President at Y Combinator)
Stupid Apps and Changing the World – Sam Altman

People often accuse people in Silicon Valley of working on things that don’t matter. Often they’re right. But many very important things start out looking as if they don’t matter, and so its a very bad mistake to dismiss everything that looks trivial.

Seth Godin (Founder at Yoyodyne Entertainment)
Seth’s Blog: Thinking about business models

A business model is the architecture of a business or project. It has four elements:
What compelling reason exists for people to give you money? (or votes or donations) How do you acquire what you’re selling for less than it costs to sell it?
Shat structural insulation do you have from relentless commoditization and a price war? How will strangers find out about the business and decide to become customers?

Fred Wilson (Co-Founder and Partner at Union Square Ventures)
FIFA Xbox – AVC

Like many big deals, [EA making a FIFA game] was ridiculed at the start. That’s a sure sign you are on to something.

David Cummings (Managing Partner at Shotput Ventures)
Minimum Viable Product or Minimum Acceptable Product | David Cummings on Startups

One rule of thumb I like is that the minimum viable product should be built and launched in 90 days with the minimum acceptable product no more than 45 days after that.

David Jackson (Founder, Seeking Alpha)
Big idea? Expect a dark period, and don’t pivot out of it | A Founder’s Notebook

Big idea? Expect a dark period, and don’t pivot out of it

Dave Goldberg (Chief Executive Officer of SurveyMonkey)
Fail fast | A Founder’s Notebook

Most new ideas won’t work but you need to keep trying. Then, be ruthless about killing the ones that aren’t working and try to do it as quickly as possibl

David Jackson (Founder, Seeking Alpha)
Why startups should focus on a Job To Be Done rather than “market need” | A Founder’s Notebook

Early stage startups often describe their product as meeting a “market need”. But markets don’t have needs; real people have needs.

David Jackson (Founder, Seeking Alpha)
Passionate founders and product-market fit | A Founder’s Notebook

Is passion about obsessing over the details more than anyone else? I’m not sure. Perhaps passion enables you to understand broad needs and opportunities in a way that someone without passion cannot

Seth Godin (Founder at Yoyodyne Entertainment)
Seth’s Blog: Listening to smart vs. I’m with stupid

Challenging the status quo and going against all the the traditional rules of thumb is a great way to take a leap. But that sort of leap needs to be a portfolio play, part of a larger arc, not a matter of life and death, not the last spin of the wheel you’re going to get if you’re wrong.
[Worth noting that plenty of smart people shunned Semmelweis, Lovelace and Alan Kay. But not all of the smart people.] By all means, take these intellectual ris… (read more)

Bill Gross (CEO Idealab)
Why Startups Like Uber, Airbnb, and SpaceX Succeed, While Others Fail – Singularity HUB

Bill investigated how 5 key factors affected the success of the 125 companies in his portfolio at Idealab and 125 companies outside of his portfolio. The 5 factors were: (i) idea, (ii) team and execution, (iii) business model, (iv) funding and (v) timing. The no. 1 thing that mattered was timing. Timing accounted for 42 percent of the successes relative to failures.

Boris Wertz (Founder of version one ventures)
The only 2 ways to build a $100 million business – Version One

There are only two ways to scale a business to hit that $100 million threshold: 1. Your business has a high Life Time Value (LTV) per user. 2. Your business has a high viral co-efficient (or perhaps even a network effect) that lets you amass users cheaply.

Paul Graham (Co-Founder & Partner at Y Combinator)
Absolute Must Watch: Office Hours With Paul Graham At TC Disrupt | TechCrunch

What is your idea? Who would use it? How would they use it? Again with more detail. So they show up and specifically what do they do? Of all the people in the world who needs this the most? What problem does it solve? How do they do that now? What do you do better than that? Who specifically has this problem now (company name or customer name)? Has anybody said yes? Who says they want to use this now? (People who aren’t your friends.) How did the… (read more)

Aaron Patzer (Founder & CEO of Fountain, Mint)
How Mint Found Startup Success By Solving Real Problems

Solve a real problem. You don’t start a company because you want to be an entrepreneur or the fame and glory that comes along with it. You become an entrepreneur and you create a company to solve a real problem.

Aaron Patzer (Founder & CEO of Fountain, Mint)
How Mint Found Startup Success By Solving Real Problems

Is this a problem that’s going to exist ten years from now?

Amir Elaguizy (CEO Cratejoy, YC Alumni)
58 things I learned at YC – Giftshop Scientist

You probably know whether or not what you’re doing is a good idea but you just aren’t admitting it to yourself.

Amir Elaguizy (CEO Cratejoy, YC Alumni)
58 things I learned at YC – Giftshop Scientist

Real businesses have customers

Amir Elaguizy (CEO Cratejoy, YC Alumni)
58 things I learned at YC – Giftshop Scientist

If there is no competition you’re probably screwed.

David Jackson (Founder, Seeking Alpha)
Why you’re not at a disadvantage if you’re a first time entrepreneur | A Founder’s Notebook

Many successful companies are founded by entrepreneurs with passion to solve a real problem of personal interest to them, or where they have domain expertise. That doesn’t lend itself to serial entrepreneurialism.

David Sacks (CEO at Zenefits)
New Sales Models – David Sacks, Founder and CEO of Yammer – YouTube

Are you in founder fantasy land wanting to “be a founder” or have you found a real market need? Once you have that do you have a product incarnation for that need? Do you have a simple interaction or user behavior that you can get users to use the product? What’s the initial simple behavior you can get a user to engage in? At PayPal it was getting users to email money. At Yammer it’s What are you working on? Do you have a scaleable distribution m… (read more)

What’s the best way to interview customers?

David Jackson (Founder, Seeking Alpha)
Startup founders’ most common mistake in meetings — and how to avoid it | A Founder’s Notebook

1. Make your key goal for the meeting to learn from the other person. Keep that goal in mind during the meeting and as you’re preparing for it. You might find it changes your behavior in unusual ways. 2. Send background information in advance. You’d be surprised at how willingly people will read material in advance. 3. Before the meeting, write down questions to ask the person. Many founders tell you about their product and company, and then thin… (read more)

Andrew Tate (Writer, former Nueroscientist)
Why a SaaS customer hasn’t churned when they cancel

Send a succinct, targeted survey that forces the cancelled customer to pick the biggest and smallest reasons for churning. These surveys work best in three main forms: An exit survey that’s displayed upon hitting cancel, an automated (but seemingly personal) email survey in the cancellation confirmation email, or a highly personalized email with an open-ended question: What made you cancel?

Ruben Gamez (Founder of BidSketch)
Doing SaaS Cancellation Interviews (the Jobs-to-be-Done Way) | ExtendsLogic

My favorite way to [interview customers] is by doing “switch interviews”, in which you focus on how the customer stopped using one product and started using another.

David Jackson (Founder, Seeking Alpha)
Build your product to explicitly address a “Job To Be Done” | A Founder’s Notebook

Build your product to explicitly address a “Job To Be Done”. Focusing on a Job To Be Done removes the need to specify who your target customer is, because your target customer is anyone who needs to get this job done. If you discover that there are different jobs to be done, for example Clay Christensen’s example of a milkshake to provide breakfast on a commute and a milkshake to provide a treat for a child, you’ll likely find you have different … (read more)

Sachin Rekhi (Group Product Manager at LinkedIn)
A Practitioner’s Guide to Net Promoter Score (NPS) | Sachin Rekhi

Ask your customers: “How likely is it that you would recommend our company to a friend or colleague?”, with the possible answers ranging from 0 – 10. Group your customers into Promoters (9-10 score), Passives (7-8 score), and Detractors (0-6 score). Then subtract the percentage of detractors from the percentage of promoters and you have your NPS score. The score ranges from -100 (all detractors) to +100 (all promoters). An NPS score that is great… (read more)

Seth Godin (Founder at Yoyodyne Entertainment)
Seth’s Blog: Asking or announcing…

We have to create environments where people choose, then ask them why. When you ask someone if they would use your new product, buy your new widget or participate in your new service once it’s ready, you will get a lie in response. People don’t mean to mess you up, but you’ve made the error of asking them to imagine a future they have trouble imagining. It’s incredibly different than asking them to justify what they already do.

Seth Godin (Founder at Yoyodyne Entertainment)
Seth’s Blog: What does, “it’s too expensive,” mean?

“It’s too expensive,” rarely means, “we can’t afford it. ” Often, it actually means, “it’s not worth it. ” This is a totally different analysis, of course.

Intercom (A fundamentally new way to communicate with your customers)
Asking customers what you want to hear – Inside Intercom

Research study after research study has shown that people are very bad at predicting their future behaviour and attitudes. Therefore one of the worst, but sadly most common, research questions to ask is: Would you use feature x if we built it?

Joe Natoli (UX Consultant, Speaker & Author at Give Good UX / Twofold)
The Easy Way to IA: Start with Information Priority (Video)

Get the internal stakeholders to list the categories of information they think users of the product care about, in order of importance. Then, ask users what categories of information they care about. Don’t anchor them with the categories you’ve come up with — ask open ended questions. Present the results in a three-column table: Column 1: information category. Column 2: how we thought users ranked it. Column 3: how users actually ranked it.

Tomasz Tunguz (Partner at Redpoint Ventures)
8 Customer Discovery Questions to Validate Product Market Fit for Your Startup

1. How did you hear about the product? 2. What process did you use to pick this product over the competition? 3. Why did you choose this product? 4. Which teams in the company use the product, and how has that changed over time? 5. How important is this product compared to other software? 6. How much do you pay? 7. How quickly is the product evolving? 8. To whom would you recommend this product?

Eric Ries (Author, The Lean Startup)
The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to … – Eric Ries – Google Books

We must learn what customers really want, not what they say they want or what we think they should want. We must discover whether we are on a path that will lead to growing a sustainable business.

Alan Klement (Author and Consumer Insights Analyst)
Filling in Lean’s Gaps | Jobs-to-be-Done

1. Exposition. In story telling (narratives) it often helps to introduce background information which sets the stage before the main plot begins so the audience can quickly understand the context in which everything happens. The same is true for product design. 2. Observation. Identify two things: (1) The pre-existing behaviors customers do now and have done in the past. (2) The purchases which customers make and have made in the past. 3. Situati… (read more)

Benson Garner (Owner & Co-Founder Innovation Principle, LLC)
8 Tips For Conducting Interviews That Deliver Relevant Customer Insights — Strategyzer

Adopt a beginner’s mindset. Listen with open ears and an open mind and avoid interpreting customer responses too early. Get facts, not opinions. Ask questions that get your customers to share facts and experiences rather than questions that result in opinions. Don’t ask “Would you.. ?” Ask “When is the last time you.. ?” or “Tell me about a time when you.. ?” Ask “why” to get real motivations. Ask “why?” frequently. You might ask “Why do you need… (read more)

Mike Fishbein (Content Marketing at Alpha UX)
The Ultimate List of Customer Development Questions

[Questions to ask] 1. What do you think could be done to help you with [problem]? 2. What would your ideal solution to this problem look like?* 3. If you could wave a magic wand and instantly have any imaginable solution to this problem, what would it look like? 4. What’s the hardest part about [what you do currently]? 5. What are you currently doing to solve this problem/get this value? 6. What do you like and dislike about [competing product or… (read more)

Ruben Gamez (Founder of BidSketch)
What I Learned From Increasing My Prices | ExtendsLogic

Some of the questions I was trying to answer at this point: What industry do they belong to? How many users do they have? How often do they use [the product]? What features do they use the most?

Ruben Gamez (Founder of BidSketch)
What I Learned From Increasing My Prices | ExtendsLogic

How many employees do you have and how many people use [the product]? How much time does [the product] save you on each proposal? How important is feature X to you/your team? Describe your typical/ideal proposal workflow.

David Jackson (Founder, Seeking Alpha)
How to truly understand your customers | A Founder’s Notebook

It’s not enough to ask what your customers want; you also need to understand what makes them successful.

David Cummings (Managing Partner at Shotput Ventures)
Live Chat for Sales and Customer Service | David Cummings on Startups

Live chat is incredibly powerful for sales and customer service. If you can staff it with a product expert, it’s worth running a two week trial and assessing the results. Here are a few tips when using live chat: Consider using it on more critical pages like pricing and FAQ instead of all pages. Running it inside the web app for support is a great way to engage with customers and trial users in the context of their product usage. Connect the live… (read more)

http://www.givegoodux.com/fast-easy-way-to-uncover-user-needs/ (UX Consultant, Speaker & Author at Give Good UX / Twofold)
The Fast (and Easy) Way to Uncover User Needs | User Experience, User Interface Design Coaching, Speaking and Workshops

It’s not just what you ask — it’s how you ask

As you’ll see, asking the right questions starts with the actual form of the questions you ask. These should be open-ended, non-leading, non-specific questions that let the person fill in the details of the answer. You don’t ask them about what software or hardware they use; you ask them what they do, how they would complete a task.

That means you don’t ask a question like “how do you use the [ … (read more)

http://www.givegoodux.com/fast-easy-way-to-uncover-user-needs/ (UX Consultant, Speaker & Author at Give Good UX / Twofold)
The Fast (and Easy) Way to Uncover User Needs | User Experience, User Interface Design Coaching, Speaking and Workshops

Asking this set of questions across even a small pool of people — ten or less — will show you clear, recurring themes and patterns that can be used to validate user needs:

1. How do you define a successful work day? What has to happen in order for you to feel good when you leave?

2. Does that definition of success (and your stated goals) change from day to day — or from week to week? Are there certain times of year where what you need to ac… (read more)

What’s the best way to improve your sign-up page?

David Cummings (Managing Partner at Shotput Ventures)
Account Sign-up Page Best Practices | David Cummings on Startups

Remove all unnecessary links, which are usually 90% of the ones of the page. Minimize the header and text as much as possible. Then, cut it down even further. Reduce the number of fields, especially required fields, to the bare minimum. Once you have someone’s email address you can always market to them later to fill out more fields. Keep all the fields in the form above the fold so that the user doesn’t have to scroll down at all. Test and enfor… (read more)

What’s the best way to get your first customers?

Fred Wilson (Co-Founder and Partner at Union Square Ventures)
Single User Utility In A Social System – AVC

One of the most important lessons we took from delicious was the value of single user utility in social systems. It might seem odd that systems designed to leverage interactions between people can have (should have?) single person utility. But I strongly believe they should.
The first users of delicious were barely aware of and rarely used its social aspects. They just wanted to store their bookmarks in the cloud instead of in their browser. And… (read more)

David Sacks (CEO at Zenefits)
New Sales Models – David Sacks, Founder and CEO of Yammer – YouTube

have you found a real market need? Once you have that do you have a product incarnation for that need? Do you have a simple interaction or user behavior that you can get users to use the product? What’s the initial simple behavior you can get a user to engage in? At PayPal it was getting users to email money. At Yammer it’s What are you working on?

Boris Wertz (Founder of version one ventures)
How to seed your marketplace – Version One

So how to you go about seeding supply? There are four common strategies: 1. Identify unique inventory for which the sellers have no current marketplace 2. Convince existing inventory to list on your platform 3. Pay for inventory 4. Aggregate readily accessible inventory

Paul Graham (Co-Founder & Partner at Y Combinator)
How to Get Startup Ideas

ask yourself: who wants this right now? Who wants this so much that they’ll use it even when it’s a crappy version one made by a two-person startup they’ve never heard of? If you can’t answer that, the idea is probably bad.

Paul Graham (Co-Founder & Partner at Y Combinator)
Startups in 13 Sentences

One of the things I always tell startups is a principle I learned from Paul Buchheit: it’s better to make a few people really happy than to make a lot of people semi-happy.

David Cummings (Managing Partner at Shotput Ventures)
10 Ideal Customers are More Important than 30 Random Customers | David Cummings on Startups

[When you’re looking for product/market fit], signing 10 customers that fit your ideal customer profile is more important than signing a large number of random customers in the near-term. Customers will always ask for product enhancements, so it’s key that requests align with the entrepreneur’s vision of the future. Ideal customers are going to be happier customers and happier customers are going to provide testimonials as well as references for … (read more)

Seth Godin (Founder at Yoyodyne Entertainment)
Seth’s Blog: Hypergrowth

If you make the audience you’re initially serving too big, you will dilute the very thing you set out to make, avoid critical mass, and compromise the magic of what you’re building. You’ll make average stuff for average people instead of something powerful for the few. Fast growth comes from overwhelming the smallest possible audience with a product or service that so delights that they insist that their friends and colleagues use it.

David Jackson (Founder, Seeking Alpha)
Doing things that don’t scale | A Founder’s Notebook

In the early days of Seeking Alpha I remember personally reaching out to bloggers to ask whether I could republish their posts, and explaining to each one how it would get them a larger audience. It was a ton of manual work that wasn’t scalable.

Sam Altman (President at Y Combinator)
Startup Playbook

You usually need to recruit initial users one at a time (Ben Silbermann used to approach strangers in coffee shops in Palo Alto and ask them to try Pinterest) and then build things they ask for. Many founders hate this part, and just want to announce their product in the press. But that almost never works. Recruit users manually, and make the product so good the users you recruit tell their friends.

Tristan Pollock (Entrepreneur in Residence and Venture Partner at 500 Startups)
14 Marketplace Mistakes That Are Killing Your Startup | 500 Startups

Ensure you win the trust of your customers, and watch out for their safety. Let your customers know about your marketplace protections early in the dialog.

Seth Godin (Founder at Yoyodyne Entertainment)
Seth’s Blog: Hypergrowth

If you make the audience you’re initially serving too big, you will dilute the very thing you set out to make, avoid critical mass, and compromise the magic of what you’re building. You’ll make average stuff for average people instead of something powerful for the few. Fast growth comes from overwhelming the smallest possible audience with a product or service that so delights that they insist that their friends and colleagues use it.

Paul Graham (Co-Founder & Partner at Y Combinator)
Do Things that Don’t Scale

One of the most common types of advice we give at Y Combinator is to do things that don’t scale. A lot of would-be founders believe that startups either take off or don’t. You build something, make it available, and if you’ve made a better mousetrap, people beat a path to your door as promised. Actually startups take off because the founders make them take off.

Paul Graham (Co-Founder & Partner at Y Combinator)
Do Things that Don’t Scale

The most common unscalable thing founders have to do at the start is to recruit users manually. Nearly all startups have to. You can’t wait for users to come to you. You have to go out and get them. If [a] market exists you can usually start by recruiting users manually and then gradually switch to less manual methods.

Paul Graham (Co-Founder & Partner at Y Combinator)
Do Things that Don’t Scale

How do you find users to recruit manually? If you build something to solve your own problems, then you only have to find your peers, which is usually straightforward. Otherwise you’ll have to make a more deliberate effort to locate the most promising vein of users

Paul Graham (Co-Founder & Partner at Y Combinator)
Do Things that Don’t Scale

The usual way to do that is to get some initial set of users by doing a comparatively untargeted launch, and then to observe which kind seem most enthusiastic, and seek out more like them.

Paul Graham (Co-Founder & Partner at Y Combinator)
Do Things that Don’t Scale

Your first users should feel that signing up with you was one of the best choices they ever made. And you in turn should be racking your brains to think of new ways to delight them.

Paul Graham (Co-Founder & Partner at Y Combinator)
Do Things that Don’t Scale

Any startup that could be described as a marketplace usually has to start in a subset of the market, but this can work for other startups as well. It’s always worth asking if there’s a subset of the market in which you can get a critical mass of users quickly.

Paul Graham (Co-Founder & Partner at Y Combinator)
Do Things that Don’t Scale

Sometimes we advise founders of B2B startups to take over-engagement to an extreme, and to pick a single user and act as if they were consultants building something just for that one user. The initial user serves as the form for your mold; keep tweaking till you fit their needs perfectly, and you’ll usually find you’ve made something other users want too.

Paul Graham (Co-Founder & Partner at Y Combinator)
Do Things that Don’t Scale

When you only have a small number of users, you can sometimes get away with doing by hand things that you plan to automate later. This lets you launch faster, and when you do finally automate yourself out of the loop, you’ll know exactly what to build because you’ll have muscle memory from doing it yourself. It would be a little frightening to be solving users’ problems in a way that wasn’t yet automatic, but less frightening than the far more c… (read more)

Paul Graham (Co-Founder & Partner at Y Combinator)
Do Things that Don’t Scale

I should mention one sort of initial tactic that usually doesn’t work: the Big Launch. It’s easy to see how little launches matter. Think of some successful startups. How many of their launches do you remember? So why do founders think launches matter? A combination of solipsism and laziness. They think what they’re building is so great that everyone who hears about it will immediately sign up.

Paul Graham (Co-Founder & Partner at Y Combinator)
Do Things that Don’t Scale

Partnerships too usually don’t work. They don’t work for startups in general, but they especially don’t work as a way to get growth started. It’s a common mistake among inexperienced founders to believe that a partnership with a big company will be their big break. Six months later they’re all saying the same thing: that was way more work than we expected, and we ended up getting practically nothing out of it.

Paul Graham (Co-Founder & Partner at Y Combinator)
Do Things that Don’t Scale

You have to make an extraordinary effort initially. Any strategy that omits the effort—whether it’s expecting a big launch to get you users, or a big partner—is ipso facto suspect.

Paul Graham (Co-Founder & Partner at Y Combinator)
Do Things that Don’t Scale

The need to do something unscalably laborious to get started is so nearly universal that it might be a good idea to stop thinking of startup ideas as scalars. Instead we should try thinking of them as pairs of (i) what you’re going to build, plus (ii) the unscalable thing(s) you’re going to do initially to get the company going.

Paul Graham (Co-Founder & Partner at Y Combinator)
Do Things that Don’t Scale

If you have to choose between [a subset of customers] that will sign up quickest and those that will pay the most, it’s usually best to pick the former, because those are probably the early adopters. They’ll have a better influence on your product, and they won’t make you expend as much effort on sales. And though they have less money, you don’t need that much to maintain your target growth rate early on.

Paul Graham (Co-Founder & Partner at Y Combinator)
Frighteningly Ambitious Startup Ideas

Don’t worry if something you want to do will constrain you in the long term, because if you don’t get that initial core of users, there won’t be a long term.

Paul Graham (Co-Founder & Partner at Y Combinator)
Startups in 13 Sentences

Offer surprisingly good customer service. Customers are used to being maltreated. In the earliest stages of a startup, it pays to offer customer service on a level that wouldn’t scale, because it’s a way of learning about your users.

Paul Graham (Co-Founder & Partner at Y Combinator)
How Not to Die

It will be good for your morale to have even a handful of users who really love you, and startups run on morale. But also it will tell you what to focus on. What is it about you that they love? Can you do more of that? Where can you find more people who love that sort of thing? As long as you have some core of users who love you, all you have to do is expand it. It may take a while, but as long as you keep plugging away, you’ll win in the end.

Seth Godin (Founder at Yoyodyne Entertainment)
Seth’s Blog: First, ten

Find ten people. Ten people who trust you/respect you/need you/listen to you… Those ten people need what you have to sell, or want it. And if they love it, you win. If they love it, they’ll each find you ten more people (or a hundred or a thousand or, perhaps, just three). Repeat. If they don’t love it, you need a new product. Start over.

Eric Ries (Author, The Lean Startup)
The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses

Start with a small geographic area, perhaps as small as a few city blocks, and instead of paying for expensive television or radio advertising to let people know about the service, use highly targeted advertising. Flyers on billboards, newspaper advertisements to those blocks, or specially targeted online ads would be a good start. Since the target area is so small, they could afford to pay a premium to create a high level of awareness in the tar… (read more)

Amir Elaguizy (CEO Cratejoy, YC Alumni)
58 things I learned at YC – Giftshop Scientist

All the technology heavy startups wanted to try to somehow outsource their marketing or customer acquisition

David Jackson (Founder, Seeking Alpha)
Keep your target market narrow | A Founder’s Notebook

Keep your target market narrow.

Paul Graham (Co-Founder & Partner at Y Combinator)
Do Things that Don’t Scale

Over-engaging with early users is not just a permissible technique for getting growth rolling. For most successful startups it’s a necessary part of the feedback loop that makes the product good.

Patrick Collison (Co-Founder & CEO at Stripe)
Do Things that Don’t Scale

At some point, there was a very noticeable change in how Stripe felt. It tipped from being this boulder we had to push to being a train car that in fact had its own momentum.

Paul Graham (Co-Founder & Partner at Y Combinator)
Do Things that Don’t Scale

Like paying excessive attention to early customers, fabricating things yourself turns out to be valuable for hardware startups. You can tweak the design faster when you’re the factory, and you learn things you’d never have known otherwise. Eric Migicovsky of Pebble said one of things he learned was “how valuable it was to source good screws. ” Who knew?