So you’d like to start a Web Company, eh?

“Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages. Bitter Cold. Long months of complete darkness. Constant danger. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success.”

Ernest Shackleton.

This is the perhaps most accurate description of a job at an actual startup. If this sounds like something you’d be interested in, read on.

Remember, Most startups fail. Failing, however, is a crucial step towards not failing.

General advice: read as many of Paul Graham‘s essays as you possibly can. from the top down. Paul Graham has literally helped several hundred startups get off the ground. Some essays will not really be useful right now, but the ideas in there are generally very very good. Check out news.ycombinator.com on a fairly regular basis. Read the comments, lookup every word and acronym you don’t know. Watch these videos

Try to answer these questions as quickly and cheaply as possible:

  1. what is the addressable market size? meaning, in the world, right now, how many people would pay for this? How many people would be interested to the point of being regular visitors?
    this is intended to give some sort of idea about how big the opportunity is.Use tools like quantcast.com to help evaluate how big the audience is that your product might reach. Imagine if you are making a management tool for independant contractors: How many people visit http://www.contractortalk.com/ on a monthly basis? that’s about your addressable market.
  2. figure out the minimum viable product. Try to get your product down to one sentence. Perhaps even one or two pages. (not counting boilerplate, like “about us”, “FAQ” etc.)Don’t get caught up in vision of the final product. No plan ever survives first contact with the customer. Try to get to the very essence of what it is that your idea does. It should literally be one sentence, or possibly less than a sentence. The minimum viable product for google was literally a place to type in text, hit enter, and get search results from a database of websites.When people think of ideas, they go from version 0 to version infinity almost immediately. You should never stop thinking about version infinity, the absolute pinacle of what it is that your idea could be, but, you should laser focus on version 0.1, the absolute minimum of what it is that your idea does. Literally, the one thing, that without it, your idea doesn’t exist, it’s still an idea. It really should be one thing. sometimes you can get away with two. sometimes.Then, you make the one thing and you show it to as many people as possible. Maybe you don’t even make it, you tell people online that you are going to make it, you setup a website where people can give you their emails so that you can tell them when you make it, and then, when you have their emails, you ask them about it, you get them involved, you show them mockups, get them to beta test, ask them to pay you for it upfront. the works. Your customers are your partners.
  3. Fail often, fail fast, and fail cheaply.
    failure is the process of stumbling towards success. This means relentlessly testing assumptions that you have as quickly as possible, with as little downside as possible. the difficulty is figuring out how to test accurately yet also as cheaply as possible. thus, use what is already there to try to invalidate your assumptions. Think of it like science: you’ve got strong hunches that you want to prove correct, but you can’t be sure of them, and aren’t going to bet the farm until you’ve got a sure thing. The only way to be sure is to test it and be honest with yourself about the results.

How are you going to fail as fast as possible? Remove as many people, steps, and processes as possible from getting your idea in front of someone who doesn’t care about you. (Your family and friends are useless in this regard, insofar as they will not tell you that your idea is a stinker)

Crucially, if your idea happens to be related to computer and software in any way shape or form, learn how to program your computer. There are a ton of awesome resources out there to learn how to write software and for starting a business, but it can be daunting to try to separate the wheat from the chaff.

The two best languages at the moment are, in my humble opinion: ruby and javascript. Ruby because it is easy and understandable, yet also powerful, javascript because it is ubiquitous, interesting, and easy to play with: if you’ve got a browser, you can mess around with javascript. I’d look through each one below and see what seems like it’s your thing. Also, remember: it’s not that hard and more importantly there is no speed limit.

Free ruby stuff:

Free javascript

At this point, you should be ready to start failing. Go forth, claim your destiny.

Stay tuned for the next installment of this multi-part series.

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