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Venture Hacks Revisited: One-Person Startups

Venture Hacks Revisited: One-Person Startups

We expect you to treat your project like a startup.

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one person startups

Fourteen years ago, AngelList co-founders Naval Ravikant and Babak Nivi launched Venture Hacks—a blog dedicated to startup advice. A lot has changed in the world of startups and venture since their first blog post, but many of the ideas shared on Venture Hacks remain timeless. We’re resharing some of Naval and Babak's more influential posts in hopes that the lessons and insights can inspire a new generation of founders and investors. These blog posts are being republished in their entirety with minimal edits.

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This article was published on February 15, 2013

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The AngelList team is roughly organized into one-person startups. That means we expect you to treat your project like a startup.

You come up with the idea, do the design, write the code, release it, market it, support customers, collect external and internal feedback, and then get to work on the next version. 

We Don’t Hire People Who Just Want to Code

We don’t hire anyone who just wants to be an engineer. Or a designer. Or a product manager. We hire people who want to start their own company—at AngelList and beyond. Many of our team members, including me, have started their own company and failed. Others have done quite well.

I would put our engineers up against any startup in the world, but we’re not a good place for someone who just wants to code.

And we’re not a good place for people who want to be told what to do. If you sit and wait for instructions, you will fail.

Pull the Help You Need

Everyone on the team is exceptionally good at one or two things (code, design, product, marketing…). Some of them might be fine at another one. But it falls off quickly after that.

So we expect engineers to pull help from designers (and vice versa). We expect designers to push help on the engineers (and vice versa). We expect teammates to ask the founders for help getting press. To get advice on how to sequence the launch. To ask for a better idea. To ask what’s the most important thing you could be working on right now.

Pull help from whomever is best at X, but don’t let them be a bottleneck. And expect strong feedback from people who are better at X.

Coordination Costs Go Way Down

Each person on the team does a ridiculous amount of cross-functional work, so coordination costs go way down. It’s pretty easy to coordinate with yourself.

There are fewer stakeholders on each project, so freedom and happiness go way up. So does responsibility.

Finally, we get the chance to improve the average quality of the team as we hire new people. Instead of hiring teams of decent people who are managed towards a good outcome, we can hire unicorns that actually increase the average quality of the team. And we can create our own unicorns through training.

The Product Gets Messy

We don’t have a consistent design across the entire site. The design is embarrassing in many places. The product is embarrassing in places. The code is rough in places. The site isn’t fast.*

We mitigate this by having very high standards—so our standard for embarrassing is another company’s standard for good. We mitigate this by solving very hard problems for our users, so they cut us lots of slack. We mitigate this by being fast instead of consistent or perfect. And we mitigate this with internal startups who serve our team members with design, engineering, refactoring, etc.

It’s a Great Way to Recruit

Every candidate loves to hear that they will get the opportunity to be a one-person startup. It lets us hire past and future entrepreneurs.

A new team member isn’t going to take over one of our top-line metrics on their first day. They will start small, but nobody is going to stop excellence from shining through.

Related

This won’t work if you don’t give the team freedom and responsibility. So read this: Ask forgiveness, not permission.

It won’t work if you don’t have a strong sense of mission. So read this: Startups are here to save the world.

If you’re interested in working with us, we’re hiring.**

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Read the original post here.

*Our design has improved significantly since those old days :)

**We're still hiring.

Disclaimer:

The information in this post and others in the Venture Hacks Revisited series is provided for informational and discussion purposes only. The posts reflect the view of the authors, at the time the original post was authored and may not reflect the current view of AngelList Venture or its employees. These posts do not constitute advice of any kind.
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