Wisdom for entrepreneurs

O’Reilly Radar post started this year’s talk with a set of “proverbs” he collected or thought up over the years. These are basically little nuggets of wisdom for bite-sized nutrition. Enjoy. The post takes the form of explanations of the following “proverbs” They are really worth reading!


  • It’s good to be king — being an entrepreneur is the best job I’ve had.
  • Losing sucks — shutting down a company is unbelievably difficult.
  • Building to flip is building to flop — this is taken from Jason Fried, and he’s right.
  • Prudence becomes procrastination — it’s great to research your market and talk to potential buyers about your ideas.
  • Momentum builds on itself — just start.
  • Jump when you are more excited than afraid — lack of fear is irrational, and too much fear is debilitating.

The Idea

  • Pay attention to the idea that won’t leave you alone — this is taken from Paul Hawken’s Growing a Business. .
  • If you keep your secrets from the market, the market will keep its secrets from you — entrepreneurs too often worry about keeping their brilliant secrets locked away;
  • Immediate yes is immediate no — does everyone immediately tell you your idea is great? Run away from it.
  • Build what you know — this is the most basic advice of idea generation: scratch an itch you have yourself.
  • Give people what they need, not what they say they need — interviews are tricky.
  • Your ideas will get better the more you know about business — engineers hate to hear this, but you can generalize up quite far from here: the more you know about everything, the better all of your ideas will get!


  • Three is fine; two, divine — having too many co-founders makes decisions hard to reach; if you’re on your own, you have to bear all of the stress and worry about the success of the company.
  • Work only with people you like and believe in — I once heard Eric Schmidt say something along the lines of, “The older I get, the more I think all that matters is working with people you like.”
  • Work with people who like and believe in you, just naturally — maybe you are very persuasive, and can talk people into working with you against their better instincts.
  • Great things are made by people who share a passion, not by those who have been talked into one — a corollary of the last; you can spark a passion in someone, but you can’t do it without some fuel to catch.


  • Cool ideas are useless without great needs — this is the classic engineers’ entrepreneurial mistake (or at least I’d like to think so, since I’ve made it). Build the simplest thing possible — engineers have the hardest time with this, with not overdesigning for the need they’re addressing.
  • Solve problems, not potential problems — you can waste a lot of money implementing solutions for problems you don’t have yet, and may never have. Test everything with real people — it’s unbelievable how helpful this is.


  • Start with nothing, and have nothing for as long as possible — small budgets give big focus (probably another line I’m stealing from Jason Fried: it sounds like something he’d say…)
  • The best investor pitches are plainspoken and entertaining (not in that order) — think about what this implies.
  • Never let on that you’re keeping a secret — telling an investor “I don’t want to talk about that” is terrible.
  • No means maybe and yes means maybe — you should never take a “no” from someone you want to work with.
  • For investors, the product is nothing
  • The best way to get investment is not to need it — if you have a running business with real customers and you’re paying all your bills, you are much more likely to get a funding round than if you need the round in order to survive or succeed.

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