Paul Graham

Former founder, lisp hacker, writer, who started Y Combinator. His views on startups and venture capital have heavily influenced the startup zeitgeist.


  • Being a Better Judge of Early Work Inoculates You from Skepticism

    We tend to judge early versions of work too harshly due to skepticism. This causes us to fail to push through the ugly early work of ambitious projects (or not try at all). By having a better understanding of what early work looks like we can push past skepticism from ourselves and those around us.

  • Techniques for Dealing With Skepticism

    Skepticism when building something new occurs in two ways 1) personally (worry of building something that is not good, failing) and 2) externally (others telling you your idea is bad or that your implementation sucks).

  • Willingness to Pay Should Be at the Core of Product Design

    The core thesis of Monetizing Innovation is that product failure is rooted in the failure to put the customer’s willingness to pay at the core of product design. Designing around the price—which measures value and priority—helps guide product design based on the customer. Companies often build the product and then do marketing and pricing, but that amounts to a leap of faith at best and a painful disconnect that leads to failure at worst.

  • Ease of Publishing Increases Disagreement

    In traditional media, writers write and readers read. On the internet, publishing is nearly free and readers can easily respond in comments, forums, blogs, and so on. This leads to more disagreements merely because it’s easier to say something and people tend to get angry when they disagree on the internet.

  • Compounding Is Unintuitive Because the Initial Curve Feels Flat

    I’ve always wondered why the nature of compounding and any exponential relationship feels unintuitive. That is until I read this quote from Paul Graham’s essay How to do great work.

  • How People Get Rich and Income Inequality

    Paul Graham argues in How people get rich now that we are returning to a period where wealth is mostly generated from starting companies (as opposed to inherited wealth from oil and natural resources) and that’s a good thing even though wealth inequality is growing. He argues that it’s that rich people coming from tech get rich faster and much more wealthy and not something more sinister that technology companies growth correlates with rising income inequality.

  • Working Hard Is Required to Do Great Work

    Although it sounds like a truism, working hard is required to do great work. In practice, it is difficult to apply because one must recognize the quality of the work they are doing, the effort they are putting in, and being honest with oneself about the results they are getting.

  • Thinking Better Thoughts

    I remember when I first started working at Stripe I felt like the dumbest person in the room. I was amazed at how smart everyone seemed and the writing…gosh, the writing! If I wanted to be like that too, something needed to change.

  • Companies Started by Solo Founders Survive Longer and Generate More Revenue

    Counter to the common advice given by people in Silicon Valley (Paul GrahamStartup Mistakes’ for instance), solo founders are more likely to build companies that survive and generate more revenue than multiple founders.

  • Good Taste Must Exist Because Good Artists Exist

    Some people argue that there is no such thing as “good taste” in art. However, you can prove that it exists by trying to prove that it does not.

  • Schlep Blindness Is a Moat

    Founders that are willing to take on problem areas that are unappealing because it seems like a lot of work is a moat. Schlep blindness, as Paul Graham calls it, is mostly subconscious and causes hackers to choose easier, but more competitive areas. This explains why you see thousands of todo list apps, but not a thousand employment compliance companies.

  • It Only Takes Two to Make an Auction

    When it comes to selling an asset, it’s helpful to remember that it only takes two people to make an auction. Auctions result in higher sales prices as it’s not just the value of the thing being purchased, but the dynamics of winning. In the sale of a company for example, it’s not just about buying the company but preventing the other party from getting it.

  • Make Contact With Reality

    One of the keys to building great products is to regularly make contact with reality. Ideas rarely survive first contact with users—what we think is good might be completely useless to an actual potential customer. Regular contact with reality insulates you from the illusion of explanatory depth.

  • No One Identifies as Conventional Minded

    Considering there actually are conventional-minded people and independent-minded people in the world, no one considers themselves as conventional-minded. It’s more favorable to think of oneself as independent-minded, perhaps due to the way we value individualism. In Paul Graham’s essay How to think for yourself, he provides an example of this with conspiracy theorists. On their surface they reject some commonly held belief, but the strength of their conviction reveals their conventional-mindedness just within subset of society (not to mention how conspiracy theories tend to be planted by others for political gain).

  • Build an Initial Product a Small Group of Users Love

    Common advice from the YC crowd (Paul Graham et al) is to build an initial product that a small group of users love. You’ll know that they love it because they tell all of their friends. The logic goes, unless you have built something someone loves, you will eventually fail.