Words of Wisdom from Sam Altman

by Scott Edward Walker on October 11th, 2014

Sam Altman v2

To Our Clients & Friends: Welcome to our series “Helping Entrepreneurs Succeed.”  Each week (or two), we post our favorite video of a successful entrepreneur, investor or business leader on a variety of topics.  This week, we present Sam Altman, the President of Y Combinator and the co-founder and CEO of Loopt.

In this interesting initial lecture from his Stanford course “How to Start a Startup,” Sam shares the following solid nuggets for entrepreneurs:

  • “You should only start a startup if you feel compelled by a particular problem and…you think starting a company is the best way to solve it.” (at 3:20)
  • “Most great companies start with a great idea, not a pivot.” (at 4:40)
  • “I myself used to believe ideas didn’t matter that much, but I’m very sure that’s wrong now.” (at 5:01)
  • “Even though plans themselves are worthless, the exercise of planning is really valuable and totally missing in most startups today.” (at 5:31)
  • “The idea should come first, and the startup should come second.” (at 6:16)
  • “The best companies are almost always mission-oriented.” (at 6:41)
  • “If you don’t love and believe in what you’re building, you will likely give-up at some point along the way.” (at 7:11)
  •  “When it comes to starting startups, in many ways it’s easier to start a hard startup than easy startup.  This is one of those counter-intuitive things that takes people a long time to understand.” (at 7:40)
  • “You need conviction in your own beliefs and a willingness to ignore others’ naysaying.  The hard part is that this is a very fine line.  There is ‘right’ on one side of it and ‘crazy’ on the other.” (at 9:23)
  • “The truly good ideas don’t sound like they’re worth stealing….You want to sound crazy, but actually be right.” (at 9:46)
  • “You cannot create a market that doesn’t want to exist.  You can basically change everything in a startup but the market.” (at 11:30)
  • “You want a market that is going to grow really quickly; it may seem small today – it may be small today.  But you know, and other people don’t, that it’s going to grow really fast.” (at 11:52)
  • “Why is this the perfect time for this particular idea and to start this particular company?” (at 12:23)
  • “In general, it’s best if you’re building something that you yourself need.  You’ll understand it much better than if you have to understand it by talking to a customer to build the first version.” (at 12:45)
  • “Another somewhat counter-intuitive thing about good startup ideas is that they’re almost always very easy to explain and very easy to understand.  If it takes more than a sentence to explain what you’re doing, it’s almost always a sign that it’s too complicated.” (at 13:07)
  • “If you could just learn to think of the market first, you will have a big leg-up on most people starting startups.” (at 14:50)
  • “Until you build a great product almost nothing else matters.” (at 15:48)
  • “Step one is to build something that users love.” (at 16:16)
  • “It’s better to build something that a small number of users love than a large number of users like.” (at 17:05)
  • “A great product is the secret to long-term growth hacking.  You should get that right before you worry about anything else.” (at 19:46)
  • “Very few startups die from competition.  Most die because they themselves fail to make something users love…” (at 20:14)
  • “The word ‘fanatical’ comes-up again and again when you listen to successful founders talk about how they think about their product.” (at 21:22)

I hope you enjoy it.  Cheers, Scott

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