Paul Graham’s Do things that don’t scale

A must read for any product person working on a new product, Paul Graham’s Do Things that Don’t Scale will become a classic in startup literature.

This is one of many good parts:

“Airbnb now seems like an unstoppable juggernaut, but early on it was so fragile that about 30 days of going out and engaging in person with users made the difference between success and failure.

That initial fragility was not a unique feature of Airbnb. Almost all startups are fragile initially. And that’s one of the biggest things inexperienced founders and investors (and reporters and know-it-alls on forums) get wrong about them. They unconsciously judge larval startups by the standards of established ones. They’re like someone looking at a newborn baby and concluding “there’s no way this tiny creature could ever accomplish anything.”

My emphasis added. Almost all startups are judged by the success of the few who shoot the moon. This is probably inevitable. What inexperienced people don’t have is the perspective that makes Graham’s writing so consistently good. He shares perspective that most people in his position don’t.

One niggle I did have was with the title. In my view the advice should not be “do things that don’t scale” as there are a lot of unscalable things you can waste your time on! Graham’s real point, I think, is to focus maniacally on creating an amazing user experience for those people who do use your product, even if it’s only ten people who you do something crazy and unscalable for. So many products and services start out this way…Craigslist grew from an email list that Craig Newmark handcrafted to his friends.

Published: July 25th, 2013

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