Debunking Silicon Valley: 5 Lessons From ‘Super Founders’
“There are no bad ideas. There are only early ideas. They’ll all happen…It’s just a question of when.” — Marc Andreessen
Clubhouse is a lovely app that has previously introduced me to informative discussions. I first heard about Super Founders by Ali Tamaseb on Clubhouse. I happen to be on the app the exact moment Soumeya Benghanem’s room started with a title about this book. Upon first listening, Soumeya was already asking Tamaseb questions pertaining to the book. I stayed through the rest of the duration of the room and soaked in all the insights Tamaseb had learned just by writing Super Founders. The ideas he laid out about why companies succeed and fail, why Silicon Valley has long-held beliefs that are simply not true, and why the data used to predict startup success is simply flawed intrigued me. As someone who has a strong desire to start companies that will be around for a long time, this was extremely relevant to me. I ordered a copy and digested it.
Among our favorite books, there are page-turners, and then there are a select few that also have the capacity to instill action-oriented thoughts. It’s why I can’t stop recommending it to my friends. Here are a few lessons that struck me throughout reading Super Founders.
Billion-dollar Founder, Not the First Company
The classic narrative of most Silicon Valley founders being college dropouts, having no work experience is a myth. Tamaseb showed that the data says otherwise. The majority of founders of billion-dollar companies are not first-time founders. An overwhelming of them are serial entrepreneurs that, throughout their lives, have founded multiple companies before a billion-dollar valuation.
The idea of founders being so inexperienced could be due to popular culture or movie portrayals, even I thought there were some truths to it. The actual median age of billion-dollar company founders is 34 years old. That’s still an impressive age for such a feat, but it’s clear that age isn’t a strong factor in founder success.
No Problem, No Problem
A huge misconception is that every successful startup was conceived with a desire to solve a problem. From his Clubhouse visit, one of the things Tamaseb spoke about, which I couldn’t understand, was that sometimes founders embellish or add to the original reason they started a company. This happens especially as the founders gain public traction and during interviews. However, solving a problem wasn’t always their catalyst and that’s okay.
Rather than searching for a problem to solve, perhaps time is better spent just starting something. I appreciate that Tamaseb reiterated this because starting a business, wanting to be successful, or having a positive impact on the world are all great reasons to embark on an entrepreneurship journey.
Late or never
Being first is not the key to success. Yes, even as a startup. You will have competition and not all competition is a deterrent. In Super Founders, Tamaseb showed the value of creating a highly differentiated product. Though all your energy might be spent on being the first or obsessing over your competition, those resources and time should be spent on creating a product that creates its barriers of entry.
Tony Fadell’s interview in the book was poignant because he emphasized the necessity of a highly differentiated product. I found his take on working in both startups and large companies to help understand the role customers play throughout. With that in mind, a founder must pay attention to the details of the product.
Not Necessarily an Expert
To be an effective founder that leads with a specific vision, you don’t need to be an expert in the field you’re innovating in. It can be the opposite. Having fresh eyes on a problem is sometimes the exact quality needed for growth to occur.
Some industries, such as healthcare, require a level of expertise and understanding that is necessary to come up with solutions. However, investors such as Keith Rabois would prefer founders that are naive compared to the experts but can also look at problems deeply and differently.
Venture Capital route
One aspect of Super Founders that I’ll revisit, for further understanding as well as off of pure interest, is about VCs and how they evaluate which company to invest in. Tamaseb made it clear that you don’t need venture capital money. And if you go that route, it’s important to know what that money is for, the risks, and what it means for your company going forward.
As the reader, this part was one of the most insightful because we all hear about founders being eager to go before VCs, but we rarely hear about the two-way street aspect of the relationship. The interview with Alfred Lin, of Sequoia Capital, shed light on the importance of founders being authentic, thoughtful, and always willing to ask for help. Once you have an investor, it’s in your best interest as well as the startup to be open and honest.
Ali Tamaseb did not disappoint from my Clubhouse listen to the last page. I love the structure of the book, the interviews of the founders and investors, and the fashion in which data was embedded throughout. I have been relentlessly recommending it to my friends and will continue.
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