Monday, December 10, 2012

Why I'm disregarding Paul Graham's advice

I'm a huge fan of Paul Graham.  As you can see in my already-outdated About Me post, he's inspired me to challenge myself to much greater things.  I've been reading through his essays and just finished A Student's Guide to Startups.  This essay is a slight change from his usual strategy of giving world-class advice.  Instead, he starts with the postulation that those in college shouldn't start a company (which contradicts some of his older essays) and spends the rest of the essay half doling out world-class advice and half telling us college students that we don't have enough "experience" to make it as startup founders.

To be honest, he makes some good points.  Yes, startups usually fail.  Yes,  every little bit counts.  The two main given reasons for college students to finish before they start a company is that they don't have the extra push their peers give them and they don't have the desire to get away from the real world.  Peer pressure can be an incredible motivator (sometimes more than we'd like to admit).  Graham simplifies this too far.  He also misses the point on "real world" experience.  Many college students go through internships.  I know I did.  I'm very much in favor of leaving the rat race [1].

The finer points aren't what bug me.  They're pretty solid, all told.  What really bothers me about this essay is that Paul Graham himself is encouraging people not to start something.  Starting something, anything at all, is better than sitting around and discussing it.  In an older essay (that I can't find at the moment), he says that the best experience anyone can get if they want to create a startup is to start a startup.  If it's in the 90% of startups that fail, you've gained a great deal of knowledge that can be applied at a consulting gig, another startup, or hey, an actual job.

Paul, your essays are both informative and inspiring.  I try to take each one to heart as I move forward with plans to get the ball rolling with my own startup.  However, I'll be ignoring this bit of advice.  You may be right, but that won't stop me.

[1] I reserve the right to read this paragraph a year after I graduate and slap myself silly for my naïveté.

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