> Don't worry about being a woman. Yes, it may be a little harder for you as a female founder. But it's not going to be so much harder that it will make the difference between success and failure. Startups at least have this advantage over the corporate world: they are already so hard that the additional difficulty imposed by being a woman is rounding error in comparison.
As a female founder of a YC startup (bottomless.com, YC W19), I totally resonate with this. While it is true that being a female in tech can be difficult, those difficulties don't even compare to how hard it is to get and sustain traction in a startup.
Hey, just wanted to say that bottomless.com is a great name for a startup. I instantly guessed what your business is without even navigating to the landing page. As someone who is big into branding and naming things, I like it.
I mentioned this before, but I think jl's and pg's essays have been a bit hit-and-miss in the past few years. No doubt due to the fact that YC is no longer a scrappy incubator, but a venerable titan of industry. YC isn't like going to "summer camp" any more, but more akin to getting an MBA.
For example, this quote by Jessica: "A good way to ensure that you make something people want is to make something you yourself want." -- is at odds with the ethos of one of my favorite pg essays (all the way from 2005) in which I feel he really gets to the core of "building what people want:"
> If you want to learn what people want, read Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People. When a friend recommended this book, I couldn't believe he was serious. But he insisted it was good, so I read it, and he was right. It deals with the most difficult problem in human experience: how to see things from other people's point of view, instead of thinking only of yourself. [...] Most smart people don't do that very well. But adding this ability to raw brainpower is like adding tin to copper. The result is bronze, which is so much harder that it seems a different metal.
I think building things that you want is a bit of a red herring. Every time I'm working on a project that solely solves my problems, the solution tends to be solipsistic and myopic. In any case, jl's essay is a great read, and I really do miss when HN had mostly startup content on the front page :)
Those bits of advice don't necessarily contradict. Also startup advice is a bit like proverbs. There's wisdom there, but you have to apply it correctly. It's not algebra. The founder of Angel List, Naval Ravikant, specifically called that kind of reasoning out as faulty logic in his famous tweet storm (which you can also find recorded on YouTube.)
You do have to make sure you're solving a problem that other people share. If you're the only one who has the problem you won't be able to make a business out of it. However, if you're solving a problem you yourself have, Jessica is right that you'll have special insight into what your customers want that you wouldn't with another kind of problem you don't know about. I think it's great as initial guidance in building the MVP if you have a solution in mind to aim for. Once you've launched (and before then, if you can) you should be talking to users.
Also every time one of PG's essays shows up here, I see this criticism that he's out of touch. Which is possible. It's also possible he's still an expert at evaluating and advising startups and it's your own bias talking - because now you see him as an out of touch rich guy. Careful with that kind of criticism, because very often the problem is just you and your own perceptions.
"But remember that making something for yourself is just a heuristic to guide you in finding an idea. In the actual execution, you need to focus on users. You need to understand what they want, and be fanatically dedicated to making them happy."
This point aside, I haven't written anything in 2 years, so it's possible I'm out of shape :)
> This point aside, I haven't written anything in 2 years, so it's possible I'm out of shape :)
Not at all, it was a great read! And perhaps, as @eloff mentioned, my own biases might be at work. As an introvert, it's a more significant effort for me to go out there and investigate other people's problems (so pg's point might be more salient).
The problem is many founders build things they /think/ people would want. Like "nice sounding problems" that actually no one cares about.
The great thing about building something for yourself is at least you know it's a real problem. It may potentially be too small of a market, but at least it's a real problem.
Also, it's much easier to build something that you deeply understand. Sure, you want a lot of users feedback and talk with them all the time, but deeply understanding the problem really help you focus on what's important rather than building features that users ask but that aren't that important.
The most effective advice is simple and to the point. Enjoyed reading this — indeed what matters is founders that get along, are skilled, and talk to their users.
From my own experience I would underscore Jessica’s point on an organic, strong relationship.
When your cofounder is a life-long friend, the effects are significant: you can emulate their thinking, you two have been through a lot in different scenarios, and make decisions that focus on the long term
Jessica's advice is a bit different compared to other advice from other successful founders. I remember someone said, a startup needs a builder and a seller. But here, Jessica add one more person which is someone who has determination. Interesting!
I really appreciated this piece, Jessica. Primarily because of its focus. I've heard many of the points in it before, but the fact you narrowed it down to these three and then included practical and specific commentary (based on your deep experience with startups) on each was very helpful.