Grow the Puzzle Around You
by Jessica Livingston
I highly suggest consuming the full piece here (17 min. read time)
Jessica is the co-founder of Y Combinator and wife to Paul Graham. She shares her inspiring story and how Y Combinator was built. She also shares 9 things that I thought were really valuable:
- “There is no one mold for a successful founder. Just because you might only see a certain type in the news, that doesn’t mean you need to turn yourself into that.
- Do what you’re genuinely interested in and try to play to your natural strengths. A startup is so much work that you’ll give up if you’re not genuinely interested in it.
- Don’t pay attention to the mainstream’s opinion of what you’re doing—whether it’s your skills, your idea or whatever. Unless they’re your users, their opinion does not matter. (Pay a lot of attention to your users’ opinions though!)
- Find a cofounder with complementary skills, but the same moral compass as you. Paul and I had the perfect combination of skills to start something like YC. We agreed on all the big questions, and we each deferred to the other’s expertise on the small ones.
- Focus on making something people want. Everything follows from that. In 2005, people needed a way to get a small amount of funding easily.
- Don’t let rejection distract you or hold you back. You’ll get rejected in so many different ways, but you must keep moving forward.
- Start small so you can be nimble and open to change. We never could have pulled off moving our operations to Silicon Valley in a matter of months if we’d hired a bunch of people in Cambridge. To this day, YC has a tradition of trying things on a small scale before expanding them.
- It’s ok not to have gone to an elite college. I grew up thinking that that was the be-all and end-all. You’ve been trained to believe that you’ll be judged by your credentials. But in a startup it’s the users who judge you, and they care about your product, not your credentials.
- Be intrepid. There’s room for lots of different kinds of people to be startup founders, but you do need a certain amount of boldness—to work on ideas that most people would consider stupid, and to keep going when you’re ridiculed or ignored.” — Jessica Livingston
“You are a jigsaw puzzle piece of a certain shape. You could change your shape to fit an existing hole in the world. That was the traditional plan. But there’s another way that can often be better for you and for the world: to grow a new puzzle around you. That’s what I did, and I was a pretty weird-shaped piece. So if I can do it, there’s more hope for you than you probably real.” — Jessica Livingston
My two cents: This piece made me rethink my own personal views around being shaped by people vs. shaping people. Yes, the startup/founder advice in there and Jessica’s story is valuable and inspiring, but the last paragraph takes the crown for me. It’s just a reminder to me to not be as much a people pleaser as I was in the past.
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