Keep Startups Simple?

This is something that distracts me from my long-term goals.

Paul Graham of Y-Combinator

Here it is: I like to find (a) simple solutions (b) to overlooked problems (c) that actually need to be solved, and (d) deliver them as informally as possible, (e) starting with a very crude version 1, then (f) iterating rapidly.

I suppose that works for a lot of situations however there can always be complications

  • Google and compensated links
  • Patents – not so much to defend the idea, but for barter
  • Major competition from the likes of Amazon & Ebay
  • Competition from other people in affiliate marketing
  • I am not a programmer

I have kept things pretty much on ice for the last year, though future plans have also prevented other opportunities. It is hard to turn down ideal roles working with someone who would make a perfect partner.

Not being able to tie up knots in the business plans means that there is much higher risk in executing, which subsequently means for the same potential startup investment I might have to hand over more equity and control.

If solutions to the problems were just a formality, it is much easier (ethically) to accept investment from someone who doesn’t fully understand the risks involved.

In addition it is much easier to present a well executed beta version to promotion partners and obtain backing – why start small when you already have the leverage for a large launch?

So whilst keeping things simple is ideal for Paul Graham who might typically be looking at 2 college kids with programming smarts looking to create the next cool social site or widget, for me the issues just prevent progress.

Liked this post? Follow this blog to get more. Follow


  1. says

    This post of yours really got me thinking about roadblocks to launching online ventures. I feel that it is a little cryptic, and although I’ve read it two or three times I’m not sure I fully appreciate what you were trying to express. Of course, I might just be having an off-day and be a bit more dense than usual.

    It sounds like you are struggling with how to best progress with knots and complications in your online ventures. As for me, I’m highly susceptible to overthinking and a self-imposed paralysis through trying to hone my plans before they are realized. The problem is that moving too slow leaves you open to many of the environmental risks that you identify, such as competition and changes in the Internet ecosystem.

    The two parts of Paul Graham’s startup recipe that really impacted me were (a) simplicity and (f) rapid iteration:

    Simplicity is useful in that the simpler an idea is the easier it is for people to comprehend and communicate it. The more viral it becomes. Yet, some simple ideas have really complicated underpinnings that are hidden from view (Apple’s products being a good example).

    Crude “beta” release and rapid iteration strikes me as a reasonable balance between “as fast as you can go” and “perfection paralysis”.

    In particular, I’m thinking a bit about the BlogRush launch — it launched a little crude and require rapid, iterative changes. It did this it the midst of lots of positive and negative buzz. But the feedback itself enabled them to identify the exact problems as opposed to the theoretical ones. They could have waited longer, fine tuned their product but may have found the “need” already filled in the marketplace making a splashy entry harder to pull off.

    I’d be really interested in elaborations of your thoughts on successful online project development, if you care to do so.

    (and sorry for the long comment! — I’ve really got to start using linked blog posts for these longer musings rather than use so much of your vertical space)

    • says

      One of the reasons I write this blog is just to chuck thoughts out and to see the reaction, and Paul’s post just hit me at the right time.

      I have been dropping the occasional hint for over a year as various thoughts still grab me, but the ultimate barrier is Google, especially if I go for a “Million Link Day”

      Lots of hints in the related posts

      I have a launch such as Blogrush had planned and have partners lined up, but the project still consists of a fairly rough 10 page powerpoint plus some design documents, and has been that way for months.

      I have even been offered funding but I couldn’t accept it because it was from non specialists, and the risk is currently just too high.

      I fully expect to have 10,000+ equity holders – can they link freely to the project?

      On the development side I won’t be looking for perfection straight out of the gate but it is certainly a much bigger project than could be managed by a couple of college kids.

  2. says

    Andy, we have no way of knowing the particulars of your situation and project ideas when you mention Google being one of the big roadblocks.

    However on your other points, every startup pretty much has those road blocks to worry about. The rare success will be for those who dare to risk and try to overcome them in the face of failure and low odds. Objectively, it may be that all other counterpoints are excuses that hold us back.

    PS: I hope Paul meant that “simple solutions” can be interchanged with “unique solutions.” I don’t think all of them are simple, in fact very often it’s the insane approaches that take off. They just “become simple” much later when we take things for granted. Would we think Google Maps was a “simple solution” oh say 8 years ago?

  3. says

    It has always amazed me how some of the most successful enterprises were started in some ones garage and with no money. apple, microsoft etc. yet I find my self telling myself that I have to find something complicated with a million dollars to succeed.

  4. says

    Instead of looking for solutions, you’re letting yourself be paralyzed by boogie men. Instead, try coming up with a reasonable business model and find a soul mate who is a programmer. They are not that hard to come by.