Paul Graham thinks that one of the most crucial mistake startup founders do is to assume in the very beginning that they should be only doing things that scale. According to him, many startup founders think that either the startup will take-off and scale immediately, or it won’t take-off at all. But as he points out in one of his most famous essays called “Do Things That Don’t Scale”, that’s not true all the time.
As he says in the article: “Actually startups take off because the founders make them take off. There may be a handful that just grew by themselves, but usually it takes some sort of push to get them going. A good metaphor would be the cranks that car engines had before they got electric starters. Once the engine was going, it would keep going, but there was a separate and laborious process to get it going“.
He says that initially founders should focus on doing the non-scaling grind-work themselves and push their startup to take off with their own sweat. The key things he suggests they should do are
One: Pull users to use their product themselves. As Graham says, “The most common unscalable thing founders have to do at the start is to recruit users manually. Nearly all startups have to. You can’t wait for users to come to you. You have to go out and get them“.
He gives here the example of the famous payment startup Stripe. He says that Stripe was famous for aggressive early user acquisition.
To illustrate his point, he gives two reasons founders resist going out and recruiting users individually. One he says is a combination of shyness and laziness. Founders would rather rather sit at home writing code than go out and talk to a bunch of strangers and probably be rejected by most of them. But for a startup to succeed, at least one founder (usually the CEO) will have to spend a lot of time on sales and marketing
The other reason he says founders ignore this path is that the absolute numbers seem so small at first. This can’t be how the big, famous startups got started, they think. The mistake they make is to underestimate the power of compound growth.”
You can read the rest of the famous article here: http://www.paulgraham.com/ds.html