Paul Graham’s How to Get Startup Ideas

Paul Graham is the Founder of the Y Combinator and the Godfather of Startup Companies.

He wrote a new article today entitled, “How to Get Startup Ideas” that would help anyone in any field trying to accomplish anything. I wish I read this article back when I was a child. His advice? Live in the future and build what seems interesting.

It’s amazing to me all the fringe ideas and questions I was fascinated about years ago have become main stream topics and huge businesses. Yet, I felt all the “adults” and traditional power structures didn’t validate those passions so I discarded them, and choose the “realistic” options. Now, all those passions are huge now. Here’s some examples:

1) E-Sports
I used to play computer multiplayer games back in 1998 when dialup was still fairly common. Playstation didn’t support network multiplayer yet. I don’t even think Xbox was around yet. Years later, hundreds of people make a living in E-Sports aka competitive gaming whether they’re youtube stars, competitive players, or commentators. It’s amazing. (Look up Starcraft 2, countless MMORPG games, or Call of Duty)

2) Importance of Web Development
I can say unequivocally I was the only expert at web design and web development at my high school. I knew more than   my high school, 25 year old compsci mentor/teacher. At the time, most schools didn’t even teach PHP or Ruby but stuck with C++ or Java. My college offered a single course in Advanced Web Technologies which included Java, CSS, and AJAX. At the same time, my computer boss looked down on AJAX saying that was an old Microsoft protocol. That was before Google showed the world what AJAX can really do. Today, everyone in Silicon Valley programs in PHP, Ruby on Rails, or some webdev language.

3) Meditation Outside the Context of Buddhism
When I applied for graduate schools, I asked professors what their stance on meditation and other contemplative practices were. All of them said it was a nice idea, but it’s not part of academia. I should have applied for Psychology programs instead because mindfulness has blown up as a field of study from neuroscience to therapy. There are also tons of teachers outside the confines of Buddhism teaching meditation whether it’s in prisons or children class rooms.

Looking back, it’s easy to see where my logic went wrong. Traditional institutes are where all the wealth and power lie. But they don’t set the direction for the future. In fact, they are by definition going to be behind the times whether that’s your university or your old boss. Colleges and businesses follow markets. At best, they keep up with the times, but very few companies are ever ahead of the times like a Google, Apple, or IBM.

I gave up on a lot of my early dreams believing there wasn’t an audience or market for my interests. But, what I failed to realize back then is that if I’m interested in these things then there’s probably thousands of other young people that feel the same way. That the zeitgeist is likely moving in my favor, and I just have to wait a few years (or even a year). In the meantime, now is the best time to start building for when that wave comes.


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