This following is the punchline from an essay by Paul Graham which really resonated with me:
make a good company by making a good product
Now this tl;dr seems incredibly obvious…
… but Paul Graham goes into depth on why, despite the simplest answer being in front of founders (this doesn’t mean making a good product is easy to do by the way), founders tie themselves in knots doing the wrong things.
At the end of the day, the lesson for me is rather than focus on the million other things out there that can be done or optimized, if the crux of what I do is focused on understanding my users better than anyone else and building something they truly want (ie they find value in), this will lead to more users which will lead to growth.
Why did founders tie themselves in knots doing the wrong things when the answer was right in front of them? Because that was what they’d been trained to do. Their education had taught them that the way to win was to hack the test. And without even telling them they were being trained to do this. The younger ones, the recent graduates, had never faced a non-artificial test. They thought this was just how the world worked: that the first thing you did, when facing any kind of challenge, was to figure out what the trick was for hacking the test. That’s why the conversation would always start with how to raise money, because that read as the test. It came at the end of YC. It had numbers attached to it, and higher numbers seemed to be better. It must be the test.The Lesson to Unlearn
There are certainly big chunks of the world where the way to win is to hack the test. This phenomenon isn’t limited to schools. And some people, either due to ideology or ignorance, claim that this is true of startups too. But it isn’t. In fact, one of the most striking things about startups is the degree to which you win by simply doing good work. There are edge cases, as there are in anything, but in general you win by getting users, and what users care about is whether the product does what they want.
If this resonates, or you’d like to read more, here is a link to the full essay