Graham calls it “doing things that don’t scale” because part of the definition of a startup is having a scalable technology. So what has changed?
Doing a startup is relatively popular. You know it is when universities start offering “entrepreneurship” programs. As is true for all things popular, there are people who actually do startups and those who play startup.
Every startup needs to get users. If you are an actual startup you will do anything to get users – go to their house, like a missionary, sit with them and help them set up your service on their computer. What do “playing startup” people do? They send you a link to their service. Both seem to be in the process of “getting” users, except ones are literally getting them while the others are simply sending links, assuming that users would do the rest of the steps themselves.
Although it may seem uncool to approach real people and beg them to try your service that is exactly what some of the first entrepreneurs did – street vendors approached people or yelled as loud as they could, they gave samples of their food, they showed it to you physically, they offered a discount on the spot, they looked you in the eye, more aggressive ones put the goods in your bag. So what has changed? Technology added convenience and distance between us. But the users on the other end still want that personal attention. So why not give it to them if, being a newborn startup you have nothing to lose.
Inspired by Paul Graham’s eponymous essay “Do Things that Don’t Scale”.