Successful Startup 101–1/3

This week, I’ve been learning a lot from John Kelley, the co-founder & COO of OnRisk, guest speakers & classmates of a Stanford course: How to Build Successful Startups: Learn Lessons Straight from Silicon Valley Entrepreneurs. Hopefully, it will make me a better mentor of Google Project Hatcher for Taiwan. Read on if you like a sneak peek to prep better to challenge the status quote.

Gerhard Casper Quad, Stanford

Magic in the air 🪄

“To invent the future, you must understand the past.” — Why Silicon Valley Will Continue to Rule, WIRED

There is no secret Silicon Valley (SiV) has it all when it comes to innovations that matter. WIRED attributes that to 3 historical forces: Technology, Culture & Money. Living in SiV for 7 years, I especially appreciate the power of the culture. So even the living cost continues to rise, it’s just too good to leave SiV. Sure, there’ve been more companies “moving out” SiV in the past few years, such as Tesla, HP, Oracle, etc. This is not all “bad” because I also see the growth of many companies is capped by the limited supply of talent in SiV. Some say they just run out of people to hire if to keep the same bar. Reshuffling & even slowing it down may be good for the long run too. Anyway, I bet SiV’s culture will still be the magic to keep & draw talents to SiV. For examples:

  1. Embrace the failures as Astro Teller, X’s Captain of Moonshots shared. The trick is learning fast if you can take it as “a chance to either gain something or learn something”. Many SiV companies really “reward risk-taking” not just because they are good companies, but also they have to survive by pursuing 10x instead 10% only. So they can keep great talents & create value on such expensive place.
  2. Result-oriented meritocracy as The Silicon Valley Edge calls it. Even it’s against human nature, but Don’t listen to the Highest-Paid Person’s Opinion (HiPPO) as the book: How Google work urges. Luckily, there are always some “rebels” who can not resist challenging establishments. So, now we don’t need to believe in “Earth as the center of the Universe” anymore. A trick to “rebel” nicely is to use data points & measurements instead of opinions because “my opinion is always better than yours” 😉.
  3. High quality of life & great weather in SiV are the great blisses. Those are hard to walk away from. After all, that’s why we work so hard, right? The book: Scarcity shares proves how the poor teams gain focus dividends by paying tunneling tax. So more SiV people have the bliss to think laterally, play the long game on important but not urgent challenges & open to colliding ideas with others more openly. While I believe good people will also collaborate & help others without strings attached, more disposable resources always help.
Parasite: “They are nice because they’re rich” 😉

Tackle the monkey first 🐵

Against the common wisdom, even when you go for 10x, you can only “eat the elephant one bite at a time” in reality. In other words, “dream big but start small”. The question is do you have the perseverance to persist. A few tricks to help finding your courage easier.

  1. Love the problems & care about the target customers deeply. You need to find out “what makes your heart sing”. So you’ll “have the courage to follow your heart & intuition” as Jobs put it. Remember: your problem is my opportunity.
  2. Teller suggests tackling the hardest parts of the problem from scratch first, aka hashtag the monkey. Because if you can not train a monkey to recite Shakespeare, building the pedestal first means nothing for a dream of a monkey reciting Shakespeare on a pedestal. Bonus: because VCs are not your regular loan officers, you can win their hearts better by removing top risks as The Silicon Way points out.
  3. Measuring success, failure, or everything in the real-time as possible. Many people reckon there are more “engineering companies” in SiV. One side effect: the scientific method is built-in the hearts & practices in the majority of such companies. They relentlessly test hypotheses & learn from the quantitative measures. So, they can push the envelope bit by bit continuously.
Google Cloud Startup Summit: How to Build a Moonshot Factory

Use the force from above ☁️

Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian shares a mission: “To take the technology that Google invented and to bring it to everybody.” Most startups are in the race to build a profitable business before burning out of founding. To stand on the shoulder of giants, startups should take full advantage of Public Cloud & Open Source. So a startup does not need a huge initial investment & a long lead time. Instead, it can focus on solving the hardest parts of the problem from scratch with the latest technologies under the new context.

For example, Kurian mentions how Spotify, Snap & Shopify “use the force” to be more successful.

  1. Spotify: The future of audio. Putting data to work, one listener at a time.
  2. AWS and GCP Are the Real Winners in Snapchat’s Growth.
  3. Shopify Expands Partnership with Google Cloud to Enable Global Growth.

Remember “Copy when you can. Invent when you must”, because if to be a successful startup, leveraging is also the name of the game.

Google Cloud Startup Summit: Looking forward, what’s next?

Full Disclosure

The opinions stated here are my own, not those of my company. They are mostly extrapolations from public information. I don’t have insider knowledge of those companies, nor a whatever expert.



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Sam Lin

A Taiwanese lives in Silicon Valley since 2014 & has random opinions on some stuff. The opinions shared here are my own, not those of companies I work for.