Sam Altman’s Startup Advice, Briefly”… Improved

I’ve recently read Sam Altman’s post “Startup advice, briefly“. Here are the gems of wisdom I took from this post…

I’ve added my own grouping to help make the lessons more digestible.

From Idea to Project:

1. You should start with an idea, not a company. The stakes are lower and you’re more willing to entertain outlandish-sounding but potentially huge ideas. The best way to start a company is to build interesting projects.

2. Have at least one technical founder on the team (i.e. someone who can build whatever the company is going to build).

3. Prefer a fast-growing market to a large but slow-growing one.

4. Make something people want.

Once you’re in “Company Mode”:

5. Be decisive and act quickly. Instead of thinking about making a decision over the course of week, think about making it in an hour, and getting it done in the next hour.

6. Become formidable. Also become tough—the road ahead is going to be painful and make you doubt yourself many, many times.

7. Get your product in front of users. Listen to what your users tell you, improve your product, and then listen again.

8. Don’t deceive yourself about whether or not your users actually love your product.

On Strategy and Finances:

9. Keep your burn rate very low until you’re sure you’ve built something people love. The easiest way to do this is hire slowly.

10. Have a strategy. Take a little bit of time to think about how you’re executing against your strategy.

11. Learn to ask for what you want.

12. Generate revenue early in the life of your company.

On Hiring:

13. Hire the best people you can. However much time you’re spending on this, it’s probably not enough.

14. Fire people quickly when you make hiring mistakes.

15. Don’t work with people you don’t have a good feeling about.

On Growth:

16. Figure out a way to get users at scale.

17. Obsess about your growth rate, and never stop. The company will build what the CEO measures. Don’t let yourself be deceived by vanity metrics.

18. Build missionaries > mercenaries.

On Focus:

19. Don’t waste your time on stuff that doesn’t matter.

20. Focus intensely on the things that do matter. Every day, figure out what the 2 or 3 most important things for you to do are. Do those and ignore other distractions. Be a relentless execution machine.

21. Do what it takes and don’t make up excuses.

On People:

22. Learn to manage people. Make sure your employees are happy. Don’t ignore this.

23. If you want to be really successful, you also have to build a great company. So think a lot about your culture.

24. Don’t underestimate the importance of personal connections.

On Exits and Success:

25. Ignore acquisition interest until you are sure you want to sell. Don’t “check the market”. There is an alternate universe somewhere full of companies that would have been great if they could have just avoided this one mistake. Unfortunately, in this universe, they’re all dead.

26. Work really hard. Everyone wants a secret to success other than this; if it exists, I haven’t found it yet.

27. Keep doing this for 10 years.


Hope this is helpful. I highly recommend reading the Sam’s post “Startup advice, briefly” and if interested watching the videos from the Startup Class course.

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