How to Start a Startup

Paul Graham has done it again. He wrote a beautiful article on How to Start a Startup:

You need three things to create a successful startup: to start with good people, to make something customers actually want, and to spend as little money as possible. Most startups that fail do it because they fail at one of these. A startup that does all three will probably succeed.

I did start what one could call a startup and I failed. I did work like hell for a few short years. I made some good money, but all of it is long gone. However, I learned a lot.

One issue was that we didn’t have the right people. The other issue is that my love of money was not great enough. You’ve got to actually badly want to make money. All I wanted was to find a way to get paid to do interesting work.

These days, the money suck (a professorship is no way to make a living), but I pretty do what I like to do.

I think I still mostly want to be left in peace to my own ideas and work with collaborators I like. I think I’m succeeding at getting what I want. I will never become a big shot professor running a large laboratory (I would hate it), I will never become a filthy rich industry consultant (though I wouldn’t mind doubling my salary) because I will always pick contracts out of interest more than out of greed.

Lesson? I don’t know. Don’t listen to me, listen to Paul Graham and go start a startup, become filthy rich. It sounds like a great plan. I’m a lost cause.

Daniel Lemire, "How to Start a Startup," in Daniel Lemire's blog, March 10, 2005.

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Daniel Lemire

A computer science professor at the University of Quebec (TELUQ).

4 thoughts on “How to Start a Startup”

  1. You might prefer to work in a different kind of start-up, like Dave Pollard’s Natural Enterprise:

    This is the model that I’m using for my free agency of one, as well as with some of my clients. Dave has put this together with a whole bunch of other ideas at:

    Not that life as a free agent is a bowl of cherries 😉

  2. Arrghhh! This Natural Enterprise things sounds like utopia to me. And beside, our start-up was a flat start-up. The flaw here is that people feeling commonly responsible is not going to happen. One guy will feel strongly about the enterprise, others will not care so much. One guy will just become conveniently hard to reach for many weeks while the project deadline is slipping. Another guy will decide to go back to another job and drop everything. One guy will decide that even though the project only pays $150 an hour, he won’t work for less than $175 an hour, but he will also never bring a contract that pays anything at all.

    If you can find a bunch of very responsible people who all care about this enterprise, fine… this will happen about once in a lifetime. But if you want to start tomorrow, you’ll have to make do with whoever you find. You may find great professionals, but will you find great professionals who also want to team up with you? Will everyone have compatible interests? What if one guy decides he wants to spend 6 months a year hiking? He is very good when he is there, but the rest of the time, he is not there…

    All sort of hard questions rise up.

  3. These are valid concerns and criticisms. My own model is to partner, as an independent, with various other small companies. We partner on projects, we learn, and we decide if we want to work together again. This is lower risk than jumping straight into a startup. I’m now exploring the possibilities of joining up with a few of my ex-partners. We have worked together and trust each other. This has taken almost two years. In the meantime, I keep doing contract work, as we co-develop the business model. No big bucks, but I haven’t lost my shirt – yet.

    I’ll tell you how it goes …

  4. When starting a business don’t forget to file a dba or doing business as. This will allow you to…

    -Open bank accounts under that business name.
    -Write and cash check under name. -Mention name in contracts.
    -Legally publish name in advertisements, including phone books and business cards. -Discourage competitors from using your business name.
    -Establish name recognition and have a name that reflects goods sold or services provided.

    A dba is also commonly referred to as a fictitious business name, assumed name or trade name . Also, think about filing an LLC or incorporation for your business.

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