When I first started learning about startups, I would throw any advice that I heard into my bucket of startup knowledge. It didn’t matter who I learned it from. Basically as long as that person was successful, I would think, “Ok, I need to do everything that they are telling me.”
However, once I had spent a significant time learning from others as well as building my own startups, I began to realize something - I had tons of conflicting advice in my bucket! Here are a few examples of the opposing advice I had been hearing.
- You should get a co-founder
- You need to work 12 - 16 hours a day
- Skip sleep so you can work more on your startup
- You need to quit your full time job to be successful
- Be obsessive about your startup
- Raise lots of money
- You don’t need a co-founder, you can do it all on your own
- Don’t work so much so you can sustain your creative ability
- Never skip sleep, that’s dumb
- You should do your startup on the side
- Take breaks and spend time with friends and family
- Angel Investors and VCs will take away your business!
The first list of advice tended to come from investors or people who worked at companies like YCombinator, Airbnb, and Slack. The second list of advice mostly came from people who worked at companies like Basecamp, MailChimp, or individual Indie Hackers.
Once I started hanging out a lot in the Indie Hacker community and reading a lot of the top hackers advice, I started to realize that there are two camps of startup advice!
Let’s call the advice from the first list, “camp one” and the advice from the second list, “camp two”.
Camp one is advice for stereotypical startups. Camp two is advice for bootstrappers or smaller startups. Some might even call the second group “lifestyle businesses.” People really dislike that term, but it is true to some extent. Stereotypical startups are trying to make a business as big as possible while indie hackers and bootstrappers have smaller goals, just trying to make a profitable business for themselves or a smaller team.
Once I was able to differentiate these two kinds of advice, I was relieved and felt more at ease wading through the heap of startup advice I was hearing. Hopefully that differentiation will be helpful for you too! In order to apply the correct list of advice, you need to think about what kind of business you are trying to make and where your business idea fits.
I believe that some businesses ideas are better suited to be full-blown startups while others are better for the bootstrapping route. For example, a business idea like “I want people to be able to hail a car from anywhere, at anytime, to go anywhere” is a very broad and unique idea. This idea needs to be a large-scale startup for you to make this work. You’re going to need loads of money and lots of employees. You’re going to have to work all day and night to make this happen. And that’s exactly what Uber did. In this case you should probably listen to advice from camp one.
Now an idea like “transcribe blogs to audio” is a smaller idea. The market is much smaller and there is probably less revenue in that kind of business. This business probably couldn’t make it if it raised money, because the return on investment wouldn’t be great enough. The second camp of advice makes a lot more sense here. This is exactly what Miguel Piedrafita is doing with Blogcast so far.
Another way to think about this is through the lens of Peter Thiel’s book Zero to One. He talks about Zero to One businesses starting in a new market so they can obtain a monopoly - and that this is where new innovation is really made. He is probably right, but as a founder, you are probably going to have to follow advice from the first camp. It’s really hard to create something completely new that no one has ever done before. You’re probably going to be obsessed about it and spend all your time on your startup.
Peter also talks about One to N businesses. This is probably more where you want to be if you are an Indie hacker and following camp two advice. You are going to need an idea that doesn’t take a ton of research and new work, and one that others have done pieces of so you have something to work with and build on. You’re not going to want to invent an entire new market.
I do think there could potentially be some business ideas that fit in both the full blown startup side (camp one) and bootstrapped side (camp two). There may just be less of those kinds of ideas.
So, what you should you do with this information? Obviously all of us need to have discernment with any kind of information that we learn or read about startups. But hopefully, realizing that there are two camps for startup advice will help you know which camp you are in and which group of advice to truly take to heart!