How should I get started in startups?

Excluding actually starting one, the best startup resources I’ve come across to date are:

Collectively, they are probably the closest thing to an education in company building and should be read comprehensively. The best part is they are free or cheap.

What are you working on?

I’m working on a few things. A software startup Simple Technology Corporation that is a few websites being: Lawyer, Medicine, Surgery and When. A real estate development company: SR Developments. And an investment fund: Hummingbird Ventures. They are all at varying degrees of success and failure. 

Why don’t you drop out of university?

My grandfather grew up in a slum in India. He wasn’t a smart man but worked hard, studied and became a doctor. Education was his weapon of upward mobility and how he fought his way out of poverty. It would be deeply generationally insulting for me not to get a degree.

I don’t think you need to drop out of university to succeed and build a great company, even though it is a time sink. I’m firmly in the grow slowly and organically so am optimising not for speed and immediacy but endurance and longevity.

Edit: I have since graduated with a Comp Sci undergrad and an MBA.

How do we get you to speak at an event?

Send me an email. I’m happy to most of the time unless super busy. Let me know 2 weeks in advance with the topic you’d like me to speak about so I can prepare a talk. The only condition is I’d like to talk about something new, not redeliver an old essay. At the moment, I don’t charge a speaking fee but if I have to travel to deliver it, would appreciate if expenses are covered or a stipend is provided.

Can we take you out for coffee?

Sure, send me an email. I’m happy to meet with anyone but I apologise in advance if I’m too busy. Sometimes I get overwhelmed and that happens. Please have everything you wish to say pre-prepared as I’ve found that’s the best way to get maximum utility of the time spent.

Can we use one of your essays?

Everything on the site is released under an Attribution Creative Commons licence and is free and open for use for whatever purposes. Please keep them intact and link back to the original.

Why did you stop being an artist?

The long answer is because I didn’t really like it and to focus on other things. The short answer is I was fired by my management for not making them enough money which coincided with an increasing disinterest in the field.

What are the most influential books you’d recommend?

These are books I walked away from completely electrified or feeling like I’d understood something profoundly important and hard to learn that shapes the way you think.

  • Hover Car Racer by Matthew Reilly
  • The Psychology of Money and Same as Ever by Morgan Housel
  • The Discontented Little Baby by Dr Pamela Douglas
  • Cribsheet and The Family Firm by Emily Oster
  • Hatching Twitter: A True Story of Money, Power, Friendship, and Betrayal by Nick Bilton
  • The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
  • Poor Charlie’s Almanack: The Wit and Wisdom of Charles T. Munger by Charlie Munger
  • On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
  • Mastery, 48 Laws of Power, The Art of Seduction and 33 Strategies of War by Robert Greene
  • How To Get Rich by Felix Dennis
  • Founders at Work: Stories of Startups Early Days by Jessica Livingston
  • Zen Koan, 101 Zen Stories and Tales of Old Japan
  • The Making of Modern Medicine by Andrew Cunningham and Michael Bliss
  • Siddhartha by Herman Hesse
  • How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
  • A Short History of Financial Euphoria by John Kenneth Galbraith
  • The Innovator’s Dilemma and How Will You Measure Your Life by Clayton M. Christensen
  • The Beginner’s Guide to Winning the Nobel Prize: Advice for Young Scientists by Peter Doherty
  • Getting to YES: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In by Roger Fisher
  • Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative by Austin Kleon
  • Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey
  • Predictably Irrational, The Upside to Irrationality and The Honest Truth About Dishonesty by Dan Ariely
  • Fooled by Randomness, Anti-Fragile and Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
  • DC and Marvel Graphic Audios by the Cutting Corporation
  • The Business of Venture Capital by Mahendra Ramsinghani
  • How the Mighty Fall, Good to Great, Great by Choice and Made to Last by Jim Collins
  • Beautiful Boy and Tweak by David Sheff and Nice Sheff
  • One Up on Wall St and Beating the Street by Peter Lynch

Of these books, what are the best ones and what lessons did you take from them?

Hover Car Racer – Never Give Up. Even when you’re losing, only you can throw in the towel. Wins can come from losing positions if you’re still in the game and play for long enough. Only you can decide when you give up. 

Anti-Fragile, Black Swan and Fooled by Randomness – Rare events happen with high frequency. Make systems that are resilient and don’t break when bad things happen but also capture the upside when good things happen. Minimise downside, maximise upside. Low probability,  high impact, random events can influence everything and wipe you out while you’re winning. 

Getting to Yes and How to Win Friends and Influence People – Life is about people and doors. Opening closed doors and convincing people is the trick to getting everything you want. Help as many people as you can, people are more helpful if they like you.

Tao De Ching and Zen Koan – Complicated problems can have simple solutions. Things only become as complex as you let them and you get to control your stress, state of mind and happiness when you do. Simplicity is beautiful, happiness is a choice. Stress is something you can control. 

On Writing – Communicating effectively is important. A lot of information is lost through bad communication. Learning to succinctly and directly articulate ideas helps them come to fruition. Reducing miscommunication reduces conflict and helps you be understood. 

The Making of Modern Medicine – People take for granted the continuation of their own existence. But for most of history, people died easily because we didn’t know how to keep them alive. Being alive is the culmination of centuries of trial and error by our species. Don’t value life cheaply, it’s a miracle that we’re born in this era and can take being alive for granted. 

The Psychology of Money, Same as Ever and How to Get Rich – Money is the points we designed to keep score and play the game of life. It’s helpful to have a lot of points in the game to upgrade your character and get great items. But don’t forget it’s just points, the real goal is happiness and to live meaningfully. 

The Discontented Little Baby and Cribsheet – Procreation is the imperative of existence. If you’re alive long enough, all the life around you will end so you have to create new life to replace the life that is lost. That new life is helpless and needs nurturing to survive and thrive. Give it the best chance it can, a lot of childraising is just implementing best practices from research and experience. 

How do you help companies? Will you help ours?

Initially I used to try my best to help anyone that asked. But due to the high volume, I’ve had to set a fee available here: Hummingbird Ventures. They largely fall into two categories:

For a young startup most of what I do is crisis counseling with founders, brainstorming ideas and strategy, being a confidant and using their product then sending huge essay-length emails with detailed feedback on ways to improve. It’s like hiring an advisor.

For a big corporate, mid-sized company or NGO, most of what I do is figuring out the cheapest or most impactful way of accomplishing their goals and deciphering what they are, giving thoughts and insights on important topics, distilling bureaucracy and ideas into something actionable or helping fix some major problem they’re facing. It’s like hiring a consultant.

In nearly every case, I hesitate to call them clients, have said it was an excellent decision and saved a lot of money and heartache in the long run.

How should I get started in programming?

I like PHP and recommend:

    • PHP Stream on CodeCademy
    • PHP Academy on Youtube
    • Getting Good With PHP by Andrew Burgess
    • PHP 5 Power Programming by Andi Gutmans, Stig Bakken and Derick Rethans
    • PHP Cookbook by Adam Trachtenberg
  • CODE: The Hidden Language of Computer Hardware and Software by Charles Petzold
  • The Zen and Tao of Programming by Geoffrey James
  • Code Complete: A Practical Handbook of Software Construction by Steve McConnell

Then going and building stuff. There are few substitutes for learning than building your own programs.