16 Startup Blog Posts To Read Before You Die

Want to do better as an entrepreneur or startup founder? These are the startup blog posts you need to read.

I write about practical tips and tactics for startups on the UsersThink blog, because it's so hard to learn these things on your own, but there's still lots of room for strategy and theory.

Instead of writing posts on high level theory, I'd rather share a few of the gems that I've found, posts that have had a profound impact on me and how I've approached starting and building UsersThink.

Here's my list of the best posts on startups and entrepreneurship.

Note: want just the list of posts? Here it is!

1: An Invocation for Beginnings by Ze Frank – 3 min view

Starting things is hard. Really, really hard.

Ze Frank breaks down the millions of emotions that come up when you're trying to start something new; everything that comes with that leap off the cliff.

In 3 minutes, he dispenses a multitude of advice, reminding us that this struggle is universal.

An Invocation for Beginnings by Ze Frank – 3 min view

2: Start Now, No Funding Needed by Derek Sivers – 3 min view

Derek Sivers dives into the practical wisdom of how to start.

He summarizes the principles behind Lean Startup and Customer Development, in a concise and easy to understand way.

When I first saw this, it was wildly freeing. He articulated all the things I believed, but didn't know how to say.

This is actually an excerpt from his wonderful book "Anything You Want". I highly recommend getting the audio book, read by Derek himself.

Start Now, No Funding Needed by Derek Sivers – 3 min view

3: Great Ideas Often Look Like Bad Ideas by Sal Matteis, inspired by this talk given by Chris Dixon – 4 min read

It can be tricky to find an idea that will work for startups and entrepreneurs.

They have to be good ideas. But they can't be obviously good ideas, because then everyone else would already have done the obvious stuff, leaving you out in the cold.

Good startup ideas are ideas that are actually good, but look like bad ideas.

Know what else looks like bad ideas? Bad ideas.

Chris Dixon goes through more details of good startup ideas in his talk (embedded below, you should watch it), like:

  • Good ideas are often dismissed as mere toys at first
  • Often they are a very small part of a larger thing
  • They look stupid to those already in the space
  • Tweaks that might seem small can actually be massive
  • A good indication is often a small number of people falling in love with your idea, even if most people don't care or think it's a bad idea

This is how you must act and think as someone starting a business: you must be contrarian and true.

Your ideas have to buck the status quo, but also be accurate.

Watch the presentation Chris Dixon gave to fully absorb what makes a good idea:

Great Ideas Often Look Like Bad Ideas by Sal Matteis, inspired by this talk given by Chris Dixon – 4 min read

4: Startup = Growth by Paul Graham – 28 min read

Paul Graham of Y Combinator breaks down the only thing that matters to your startup: growth.

Measure it weekly, figure out the One Metric That Matters (OMTM) for your business, and try to grow by 7% (or more) week over week.

The approaches to growth you'll take early on won't work forever, and that's absolutely okay. (Graham talks about this more in Do Things That Don't Scale)

Look at it like hill-climbing: one hand after the other, one foot after the other.

Focus on the local problem at hand, and that will steer you in the right direction.

Keeping focused on growth will lead you to good places.

Startup = Growth by Paul Graham – 28 min read

5: All the Startup Advice You Read is Wrong by Ev Williams – 3 min read

Maybe this post should be first :)

Ev Williams (Blogger, Twitter, Medium) has two reasons why what you read is often wrong.

First reason – correlation is not causation; good advice not just for work, but in life as well.

Just because two things seem paired doesn't mean they always are.

This problem's hard to avoid since humans are hard wired for pattern matching, which can easily mislead you.

Second reason – all good advice depends on context, which can be affected by numerous factors.

There are always more factors beyond "I did this, you should do the same now".

The world is a complex place and the answers aren't always easy.

But, you can still gain ideas and inspiration from advice articles.

So, reading the rest of these posts isn't such a bad idea after all :)

All the Startup Advice You Read is Wrong by Ev Williams – 3 min read

6: The Buffett Formula – How To Get Smarter by Shane Parrish – 7 min read

Here's the secret from one of the most successful people in business.

Read. A lot.

You probably won't read as much as Buffett and Munger (his business partner), but they make a great point: learn and grow a bit every day, to become a little smarter and better than yesterday.

Steady, constant work always wins the day over brief, one-time monumental effort.

Keep at it, steady and constant.

This is hill-climbing, again: steady, daily progress can compound over time.

The Buffett Formula – How To Get Smarter by Shane Parrish – 7 min read

7: Back to School Advice from Henry Rollins – 5 min view

You may not have the resources or pedigree of others, but you must do two things to succeed:

  • Approach your goals with fanatical focus and hard work.
  • Don't worry about what others have, focus on what you can build.

Hard work is wildly underrated.

And it's needed at every point in your life.

To paraphrase Marx: Life is struggle.

S–t is hard. Life is rarely fair. It won't get easier. Keep at it.

Back to School Advice from Henry Rollins – 5 min view

8: Jim Barksdale and Snakes – 3 min read

Here's how legendary executive Jim Barksdale (Fedex, Netscape) faces problems (AKA how to deal with snakes):

1 – If you see a snake, kill it (when you find a problem, fix it right away)

2 – Don't play with dead snakes (don't dwell on what you did wrong in the past once the issue is resolved)

3 – At first, everything looks like a snake (things that look like problems might actually be opportunities)

You need all three. Two won't do.

The third point mirrors the famous quote of Andy Grove: "Only the paranoid survive".

Less about other people being out to get you, it's more about the impossibility of anticipating everything. You can never know everything, and many things are almost impossible to predict ahead of time.

Always trying to be aware of your surroundings, taking nothing for granted (both good and bad), being proactive, and learning as quickly as you can will help you stay paranoid and deal with snakes.

Jim Barksdale and Snakes – 3 min read

9: The Fine Line Between Fear and Courage by Ben Horowitz – 7 min read

All of these posts have made an impact on me.

This one changed my life.

I used to struggle with how confident I should be.

Too little confidence and you can't make things happen. Too much and you'll miss the things that'll kill you because you think you know everything.

This was the wrong way to look at things. Ben set me straight.

It is courage, the ability to do the right thing regardless of how easy or hard it is to do, or how you feel, that matters.

Confidence is irrelevant; courage is all that matters.

Courage isn't inherent; you're not born with it. It's something that's grown.

To steal from the post: "Every time you make the hard, correct decision you become a bit more courageous and every time you make the easy, wrong decision you become a bit more cowardly."

This isn't how to run a company, but how to live your life.

To illustrate, I was catching up with a friend I hadn't seen in months, and she said she was surprised and amazed at my increased confidence. She wanted to know what caused the change.

The best I could come up with was this: the appearance of confidence is a side effect of growing courage.

If this approach can help me, it can certainly help you.

Extra stuff: check out this interview (below) where Ben talks more about courage, the hard things in business, how tough Andy Grove is, and why there are still lots of social problems in tech.

Also check out his book The Hard Things About Hard Things, containing the courage lesson among others.

The Fine Line Between Fear and Courage by Ben Horowitz – 7 min read

10: Steve Jobs on Failure – 2 min view

A lot has been said about Steve Jobs. Some good, some bad, some useful, some not.

His thoughts on failure ring true.

It's hard to put yourself out there, to ask for help and reach out, and rejection always stings.

But, if you don't take the risk of being rejected, you won't be able to accomplish anything.

When faced with two options, likely and complete failure, choose likely failure over complete failure and take the chances to do better.

Steve Jobs on Failure – 2 min view

11: How Not to Die by Paul Graham – 11 min read

There's an old saying about the number one reason a business fails: they ran out of money.

There's a second reason for startups: the owners/founders stopped working.

Morale is a big deal for startups; it spells death if no one is working, and it's always harder to work without morale (although courage can help).

Keep working to keep your startup from dying. Sounds obvious, but it's easy to feel despair and give up.

It'll be hard, but you might just succeed by not giving up, and in turn, not die.

How Not to Die by Paul Graham – 11 min read

12: Entrepreneurship Is Hard But You Can't Die by Steve Blank – 6 min read

Keeping perspective is hard, especially when you feel despair and that you're lost.

But, it's just business. It's just a startup.

Steve Blank, the father of Customer Development and godfather of Lean Startup, writes about his experiences in the Vietnam War.

Through the good and the (very) bad, it reminded him to keep perspective later in life, no matter what happened in a startup, or how hard the work was.

Always work hard, but, remember, it's just work.

Entrepreneurship Is Hard But You Can't Die by Steve Blank – 6 min read

13: We're Not Crushing It by Elizabeth Yin – 3 min read

Stay motivated, but be honest with yourself.

It's easy to default to the "it's going great" or "we're crushing it" response, and you might start believing it yourself, even if it's not true.

Don't. Stay humble.

Sometimes the cheerleading leads to self delusion.

Keep on your grind. It's the only way things might work.

We're Not Crushing It by Elizabeth Yin – 3 min read

14: Founder Depression by Sam Altman – 2 min read

This is the flip side of the Elizabeth Yin post, less about staying humble and putting in work, and more about the toll that work can take.

Doing a startup can feel overwhelming, exhausting, and isolating.

Being able to talk about how it feels can be hard, and Sam Altman outlines its importance well.

As a side note, if you're a founder and having a hard time, feel free to email me if you want to talk.

I might not be able to help, but I can listen.

Founder Depression by Sam Altman – 2 min read

15: From Selling Scoops Of Ice Cream To Founding ZeroCater by Arram Sabeti – 12 min read

This is the most emotionally honest account of building a startup I've ever read.

Arram is surprisingly honest about the struggles he faced.

How it's hard to be non-technical at times (and lays out a very good blueprint for building a startup when you can't code), the importance of selling, putting yourself out there, working really hard, how to find startup ideas, and dealing with a co-founder leaving.

Most would have only focused on the emotional side of a co-founder leaving, the feeling of loss and betrayal. But he pointed out that his co-founder staying wouldn't have been good for anyone involved. A refreshingly honest and mature response.

And easily the best article about the importance of hard work without using the word hustle (seriously, stop saying hustle).

From Selling Scoops Of Ice Cream To Founding ZeroCater by Arram Sabeti – 12 min read

16: Caine's Arcade by Nirvan Mullick – 11 min view

These posts have focused on the hard or sad parts of starting your own company, which is good; that's the majority of your day, even if you're "crushing it".

So, let's take a look at Caine and his story.

Caine built his own arcade out of cardboard. Problem was, no one cared.

Until one filmmaker (Nirvan Mullick) discovered it and organized a big party to get people to the arcade.

It took off and spread like wildfire. People worldwide were inspired.

The look on Caine's face at the end; the moment of realizing that the thing you've built – cared about, toiled over, the thing that you had to do even when it seemed stupid or crazy – worked.

That's the moment of that first sale, that first happy user, that first deal, that first breakthrough.

The moment we all live for.

Caine's Arcade by Nirvan Mullick – 11 min view

In the time it takes to watch a terrible Adam Sandler movie, you can read/view all of these posts.

You may not get a complete view of business and startups from these posts, but they are some of the best I've read, depicting what's hard and where to focus.

And the funny thing is, most of the advice here isn't limited to how to do better in business. It's about how to do better in life.

So, read and watch all of this in less than 2 hours, and apply it to what you're working on!

Full List of Posts:

An Invocation for Beginnings by Ze Frank – 3 min view

Start Now, No Funding Needed by Derek Sivers – 3 min view

Great Ideas Often Look Like Bad Ideas by Sal Matteis, inspired by this talk given by Chris Dixon – 4 min read

Startup = Growth by Paul Graham – 28 min read

All the Startup Advice You Read is Wrong by Ev Williams – 3 min read

The Buffett Formula – How To Get Smarter by Shane Parrish – 7 min read

Back to School Advice from Henry Rollins – 5 min view

Jim Barksdale and Snakes – 3 min read

The Fine Line Between Fear and Courage by Ben Horowitz – 7 min read

Steve Jobs on Failure – 2 min view

How Not to Die by Paul Graham – 11 min read

Entrepreneurship Is Hard But You Can't Die by Steve Blank – 6 min read

We're Not Crushing It by Elizabeth Yin – 3 min read

Founder Depression by Sam Altman – 2 min read

From Selling Scoops Of Ice Cream To Founding ZeroCater by Arram Sabeti – 12 min read

Caine's Arcade by Nirvan Mullick – 11 min view

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