How to Succeed With a Startup

21 Insights from Sam Altman (OpenAI, Y-Combinator)

Hello to every unicorn in the galaxy.

I wrote this crappy twitter thread back in January that got over 1 million views:

The year is nearly over and yet I’ve only met a few non-technical people who are actually empowering themselves with this new coding technology.

I just finished a simple app that automates a routine task my team needs done several times each month, and takes a few hours each time.

It took me about 8 hours to build the app with ChatGPT doing most of the coding.

Now it will not only save us 2-3 hours every time this task becomes necessary, it means we can do this task exponentially more often.

Given that the task in question is a strategic lever to our business, it’s a huge win.

Don’t sleep on this stuff.


Once in a while I look at YouTube for some inputs to fill the mental dustbin.

This week’s find is a list of 21 insights from Sam Altman, AI god and former President of Y-Combinator, from a lecture he gave entitled How to Succeed With a Startup.

These suggestions aren’t necessary for all businesses…

But if you’re ambitious and looking to reverse engineer what has worked, these are for you.

Today’s growth strategy: Startup Insights from Sam Altman 

Growth stage: The Earlier the Better

Difficulty level: Hard

“The hard part of running a business is that there are a hundred things that you could be doing, and only five of those actually matter, and only one of them matters more than all of the rest of them combined. So figuring out there is a critical path thing to focus on and ignoring everything else is really important.”

-Sam Altman

How to Succeed With a Startup

Lessons from Sam Altman

1. Make a product so good that people spontaneously tell their friends about it.

People remark on the remarkable. Word of mouth becomes infinitely easier when your product is remarkable.

2. Make something easy to understand and simple to explain

Conveying the value of your product succinctly is essential to people giving it a try.

3. Pick a market that is growing exponentially or soon will be

A rising tide lifts many startups, for a while. Find the fast moving water.

4. Learn how to differentiate between real trends and fake trends

Real trends have early adopters who use the product obsessively (example: iPhone).

Fake trends are where people buy the product but don’t really use it (example: VR headsets)

5. Be an evangelical founder

You need someone who can infect the world with enthusiasm about what your company is trying to do.

This person will have to recruit, sell, talk to press and raise money.

6. Have an ambitious vision

Pick something that will matter to the world if you’re successful.

Think ahead - why is employee #20 going to join?

7. Have a confident and definite view of the future

A strong leader has the courage of their convictions and a strong belief in what IS going to happen.

8. Pick something that can be huge if it works

Big hairy opportunities attract the best people.

9. The team you build is the company you build

Other than picking a great market, building the team is the most important thing you’ll do.

10. Work with optimists

The whole world will tell you you’re going to fail.

You need people who belief that new things can be done and that they’re the ones who can do them.

11. Find a few idea generators

Every company needs a few people who are great at coming up with ideas.

Most of the ideas will be bad, but they help create a dynamic iterative environment.

12. A “we’ll figure it out” mentality

In other words, you should be resourceful.

Many people stop at the first obstacle.

Resourceful founders find ways around and through. Even if they’re not qualified on paper to solve the problem or figure out the solution.

13. An “I’ve got it” ownership attitude

Take responsibility for what needs to get done and figure out how to get it done.

14. Have a bias to action

Startups win by moving quickly.

You’ll never have as much data as you’d like.

Learn to act despite uncertainty.

15. Embrace the blessing of inexperience

Take more bets on inexperienced but high potential people.

Inexperienced people don’t know what’s “not” possible and aren’t so trapped by conventional wisdom.

16. Maintain momentum

Your startup has to keep winning in short intervals.

Momentum keeps people delivering exceptional results.

If you lose it, it’s hard to get it back.

17. Consider your competitive advantage over time

What advantage will your startup carve out for itself over time?

Be mindful of a network effect or other moat that will insulate your startup from future competition.

18. Have a sensible business model in mind

Even when a startup is just getting going, it’s important to consider how it might actually make money.

Often overlooked in the good times.

19. Anticipate a distribution strategy

Have an idea for how you will get your product in the hands of customers.

20. Frugality, focus, obsession and love

These are four characteristics of great founders he’s identified.

Watch your bottom line and be passionate about your work.

21. Compete where startups can win

Startups have a higher chance of success against well-capitalized incumbents in certain circumstances:

  • One “no” vs. one “yes” ideas: startups only need one investor to say yes to a risky project, whereas one “no” in a large company can keep it from ever getting off the ground

  • Fast-changing markets and platform shifts: startups can move faster than large companies with bureaucracy, etc.

Here’s the lecture if you’re interested in watching:

✨ That’s it for today!

I hope this helps you in your growth journey.


PS - my friend Jason Levin is sharing a free Cold DM guide. If you’re struggling to make the right connections to grow your startup, this could be for you.

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