Tag Archives: Paul Graham

Paul Graham: A Company is Defined by the Schleps It Undertakes

Paul Graham has posted a(nother) brilliant essay, this one called Schlep Blindness, which is about hackers and startups and “tedious unpleasant tasks” (which he calls schleps, from the Yiddish, and of course popular culture).  Here’s what he says:


No one likes schleps, but hackers especially dislike them. Most hackers who start startups wish they could do it by just writing some clever software, putting it on a server somewhere, and watching the money roll in—without ever having to talk to users, or negotiate with other companies, or deal with other people’s broken code. Maybe that’s possible, but I haven’t seen it. …schleps are not merely inevitable, but pretty much what business consists of. A company is defined by the schleps it will undertake. And schleps should be dealt with the same way you’d deal with a cold swimming pool: just jump in.

To me that’s a sudden gust of cold-but-fresh air, a badly-needed reminder of fundamentals, a refreshing change from most of the standard stuff of entrepreneurship lore and literature. Notice that in this case it’s not about the idea, or the funding, or the plan or the pitch — it’s about the work. And doing things you don’t like to do.

I particularly like this point, clearly one of those sad-but-true realities:

The most dangerous thing about our dislike of schleps is that much of it is unconscious. Your unconscious won’t even let you see ideas that involve painful schleps. That’s schlep blindness.

Paul Graham knows what he writes about. He’s a startup veteran, successful, and still investing. For a great reading list on startups, try the list of Paul Graham’s essays.

Maker or Manager: Do You Hate Meetings?

Focus: in personal productivity, focus is power. Or maybe I should call it concentration. Have you ever borne down on a task, locked out all distractions, and gotten more done in an hour or two than you thought you could get done in a day? I have the feeling I used to do that a lot;  but now, only rarely.

Part of the problem is the obvious computer-dominated workplace, with emails, instant messages, Twitter, my office phone, and my cell phone, all competing with the task at hand.

But it’s more than just technology. It’s like in an office, more to do, more distractions, more of everything. Especially, more meetings.

I was struck the other day by Paul Graham’s recent essay Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule. He says time is different for different types of jobs and people:

Most powerful people are on the manager’s schedule. It’s the schedule of command. But there’s another way of using time that’s common among people who make things, like programmers and writers. They generally prefer to use time in units of half a day at least. You can’t write or program well in units of an hour. That’s barely enough time to get started.

So the manager’s day divides into 5, 10, and 15-minute pieces. The programmer’s, designer’s, or writer’s day doesn’t.

I can relate to this. In 40 years of adulthood I’ve had three lives as a maker and one as a manager. For years my real work was developing a software product, which included some of the code plus content and even documentation. Meetings were big interruptions. Then for a lot of years I was building and running the company, doing nothing but meetings. During those years I was unable to get much writing or software content done at all.

People are different. I like the maker’s life better; but then I’m a hermit by nature, I can go for hours concentrating on a task without talking to anybody. I know people who would hate that, and live for the actions, the thrill of the chase, the decisions, the jockeying for position, the sense of getting things done (in a different way) and, with it all, the meetings.

What are you: Maker or manager?

Paul Graham on the Future of Web Startups

Paul Graham, Web entrepreneur, Harvard PhD in computer science, dot-com winner, posts an essay on the Future of Web Startups. He says cheaper startups mean more startups, changes in college, a need for better ways to filter startups for investors. Cheaper in this context is a reference to the common theme of Web 2.0, meaning generally lower investment requirements, zero to proof-of-concept with $250,000 instead of $2.5 million, as in my post Cheaper and Easier of a couple of months ago.

It takes a lot of pizzazz to list 10 future predictions. It’s a great ice breaker, to jump-start thinking.

Will cheaper startups change college life because kids jump out starting companies instead of looking for jobs? Is investment size the critical factor in that idea?

Do cheaper startups mean standardization of startups? The idea is that a lot of technology products — computers, for example — evolved like that; but did they? Was that true for cellphones (yet)?

Do cheaper startups mean we need better methods for reviewing potential investments? Does that assume, somehow, a new status quo in investment structure, instead of spreading startup funding broader, to new sources?

Interesting questions.