How to Get Startup Ideas by Paul Graham

I have read the famous essay more than once. Below is the summary based on my notes. I also posted it as tweetstorm here.

A great idea is:

  1. A problem you have. A real one mind you, not a hypothetical one you invented to fit your model of the world.
  2. It’s something you can build yourself. And few other realize is worth doing.
  3. Great ideas are also organic. They come to you rather you look for them. You just have to become the person who gets great ideas.


1) “Live in the future and build what’s missing.” 2) Don’t think up. Notice. 3) Work on projects that seem cool.

Great ideas have well-shaped markets. Meaning your solution is few people want more of rather than more people want less of.

Once you know you have a well-shaped market, figure a fast path out of it. Few ideas have both characteristics.

You can’t possibly prove if your idea has both. You will know it though. Trust your instincts.

Turn off two filters, 1) unsexy and 2) schlep.

Fear of working on something unsexy keeps you away from working on what you desire.

Unsexy is not as dangerous as schlep. A schlep is mostly an illusion. Building a business is going to be difficult, one way or the other. Dealing with payments was a schlep for Stripe.

And lastly, entrepreneurship is riding a bicycle. You don’t learn by going to school for it. You learn by doing it.


How Intel Makes a Chip

From Bloomberg:

Before entering the cleanroom in D1D, as Intel calls its 17 million-cubic-foot microprocessor factory in Hillsboro, Oregon, it’s a good idea to carefully wash your hands and face. You should probably also empty your bladder. There are no bathrooms in the cleanroom. Makeup, perfume, and cosmetics are forbidden. Writing instruments are allowed, as long as they’re special sterile pens; paper, which sheds microscopic particles, is absolutely banned. If you want to write on something, you’ll have to use what is known in the industry as “high-performance documentation material,” a paperlike product that doesn’t release fibers.

After you put on a hairnet, your next stop is the gowning station, inside a pressurized room that sits between the outside world and the cleanroom itself. A hard breeze, sent by a cleaning system that takes up the equivalent of four and a half football fields, hits you as you walk in, removing stray matter—dust, lint, dog hairs, bacteria. You put on pre-gown gloves, then a white bodysuit with a hood and surgical-style mouth cover, followed by a second pair of gloves, a second pair of shoe covers, and safety glasses. None of these measures are for your safety; they protect the chips from you.

The whole piece is fascinating.


Jeff Bezos’ Annual Letter

A must read. Once you are done, make a wall calender of the following.

“So, have you settled only for decision quality, or are you mindful of decision velocity too? Are the world’s trends tailwinds for you? Are you falling prey to proxies, or do they serve you? And most important of all, are you delighting customers? We can have the scope and capabilities of a large company and the spirit and heart of a small one. But we have to choose it.”

P.S. The letter is not in readable format. Saving it to Instapaper did the trick for me.


Writing in Design

Couldn’t agree more with this.

“Long before I make my way to Photoshop or Sketch, my process begins with an articulation of the problem in written form. I have to assign meaning to the problem and understand its implications before I can begin to imagine a solution. Design is a language that is greater than the sum of its visual parts.

Design begins with words.”


Steve Jobs on Idea vs Product

“And that disease—I’ve seen other people get it too—it’s the disease of thinking that really great idea is 90% of the work.

And that if you just tell all these other people, you know, “Here’s this great idea,” then of course they can go off and make it happen.

And the problem with that is, is that there is just a tremendous amount of craftsmanship in between a great idea and a great product.

And as you evolve that great idea, it changes and grows.

It never comes out like it starts, because you learn a lot more as you get into the subtleties of it and you also find there is tremendous trade-offs that you have to make.”



Artificial “narrow” Intelligence

Ben Thompson while writing on AI:

“In fact, we already have a better word for this kind of innovation: technology. Technology, to use Merriam-Webster’s definition, is “the practical application of knowledge especially in a particular area.” The story of technology is the story of humanity: the ability to control fire, the wheel, clubs for fighting — all are technology. All transformed the human race, thanks to our ability to learn and transmit knowledge; once one human could control fire, it was only a matter of time until all humans could.”

That last line stuck with me. Effectively all we do is build on the shoulders of humans before us. Our ability to communicate and share, that’s how we survived in the first place, as argued by Yuval Noah Harari in Sapiens.

From Chris Dixon’s masterpiece last week (emphasize mine):

“Another way to characterize Shannon’s achievement is that he was first to distinguish between the logical and the physical layer of computers. (This distinction has become so fundamental to computer science that it might seem surprising to modern readers how insightful it was at the time—a reminder of the adage that “the philosophy of one century is the common sense of the next.”)”


Musk’s crusade to stop AI Apocalypse

From VF Hive:

“Some in Silicon Valley argue that Musk is interested less in saving the world than in buffing his brand, and that he is exploiting a deeply rooted conflict: the one between man and machine, and our fear that the creation will turn against us. They gripe that his epic good-versus-evil story line is about luring talent at discount rates and incubating his own A.I. software for cars and rockets. It’s certainly true that the Bay Area has always had a healthy respect for making a buck. As Sam Spade said in The Maltese Falcon, “Most things in San Francisco can be bought, or taken.”

I don’t think that’s what he is up to. But if he is, he has been super successful so far. I will definitely prefer a world made better by Elon Musk.


Ben Thompson on Apple’s pricing strategy

From Stratechery (Paywall):

“It turns out there are two distinct strategies — the iPhone strategy and the iPod strategy

The most important difference between the iPhone and iPod pricing strategies is perhaps the most counterintuitive: how essential is the product in question? That is because any product has to answer two questions:

  1. Do I need a product from this category?
  2. Which specific product do I want?

No one needs an iPad, Watch, or Airpods (which, as Neil Cybart documented last week, are very low-priced relatively speaking). That means that price doesn’t just influence which product you buy within the tablet, health and fitness tracker/smartwatch, or headphone categories, but whether you buy into the category at all.

I strongly suspect the degree of price elasticity for a product is inversely correlated to the necessity of said product (that is the less you need a product the more sensitive you are to price).”

Too good.