Paul Graham


English-born American Programmer, Venture Capitalist and Essayist known for his work on Lisp and for co-founding Viaweb (which became Yahoo! Store)

Author Quotes

If a writer rewrites an essay, people who read the new version are unlikely to complain that their thoughts have been broken by some newly introduced incompatibility.

In both painting and hacking there are some tasks that are terrifyingly ambitious, and others that are comfortably routine. It's a good idea to save some easy tasks for moments when you would otherwise stall.

I've seen occasional articles about how to manage programmers. Really there should be two articles: one about what to do if you are yourself a programmer, and one about what to do if you're not. And the second could probably be condensed into two words: give up.

Running a start-up is like being punched in the face repeatedly, but working for a large company is like being water-boarded.

The key to being a good hacker may be to work on what you like. When I think about the great hackers I know, one thing they have in common is the extreme difficulty of making them work on anything they don't want to. I don't know if this is cause or effect; it may be both.

The way the failures die is they run out of money. So what could cause them to run out of money? They can either not make something people want or they can be bad at selling it. Sometimes, they're just bad at selling. But most of the time, start-ups fail for the same reasons restaurants do: Their food is bad. If a place has really good food, it can be in an obscure location, charge a lot, and have really bad service, and it will still be popular. If it has bad food, boy, it better do something really special to get anybody in there. Which is why we say, "Make something people want." That's the fundamental problem. If you die, it's probably because you didn't make something people wanted.

What I tell founders is not to sweat the business model too much at first. The most important task at first is to build something people want. If you don't do that, it won't matter how clever your business model is.

You need three things to create a successful startup: to start with good people, to make something customers actually want, and to spend as little money as possible.

If Apple were to grow the iPod into a cell phone with a web browser, Microsoft would be in big trouble.

In essence, let the market design the product.

I've written a lot about what a bitch the start-up world is. So, maybe the other incubators are underselling, but we're not. That being said, everyone is surprised by how difficult it turns out to be, because it's not the kind of difficulty people have experienced before. That's one reason you want to have something like Y Combinator, because not a lot of money or time is at risk. So we're totally OK with funding people who seem promising and earnest, and then, if it turns out to be too hard for them, that's all right. Nobody knows what they're capable of until they try it. Maybe half a percent of people have the brains and sheer determination to do this kind of thing. Start-ups are hard but doable, in the way that running a five-minute mile is hard but doable.

Running a startup is like walking on your hands: it is possible, but it requires extraordinary effort.

The main reason nerds are unpopular is that they have other things to think about.

The way you'll get big ideas in, say, health care is by starting out with small ideas. If you try to do some big thing, you don't just need it to be big; you need it to be good. And it's really hard to do big and good simultaneously. So, what that means is you can either do something small and good and then gradually make it bigger, or do something big and bad and gradually make it better. And you know what? Empirically, starting big just does not work. That's the way the government does things. They do something really big that's really bad, and they think, Well, we'll make it better, and then it never gets better.

When Facebook first started, and it was just a social directory for undergrads at Harvard, it would have seemed like such a bad startup idea, like some student side project.

Your business success will depend on the extent to which programmers essentially live at your office. For this to be a common choice, your office had better be nicer than the average programmer's home. There are two ways to achieve this result. One is to hire programmers who live in extremely shabby apartments. The other is to create a nice office.

If I were back in high school and someone asked about my plans, I'd say that my first priority was to learn what the options were. You [high school students] don't need to be in a rush to choose your life's work. What you need to do is discover what you like. You have to work on stuff you like if you want to be good at what you do.

In previous elections, we've had voting stations overrun by panicky mobs, and there's been a bit more obvious intimidation.

Just fix things that seem broken, regardless of whether it seems likes the problem is important enough to build a company on.

She was the type of person you just felt was going to succeed in whatever she did. She was quite lively and outgoing.

The more labels you have for yourself, the dumber they make you.

The world changes fast, and the rate at which it changes is itself speeding up. In such a world it's not a good idea to have fixed plans.

When I was a kid, your prestige was the prestige of the company you worked for. Part of the problem with starting your own company was that you wouldn't have any prestige. Now that people are starting more companies, I could easily imagine a world in which the number of successful start-ups is 10 times or, conceivably, 100 times what it is now. There are tons of Brian Cheskys (CEO of Airbnb) and Drew Houstons (CEO of Dropbox) going off to work for Microsoft or Google right now. They could start their own companies if they wanted to. We might have to figure out how to grow, too. Maybe there's some crazy future in which Y Combinator is 10 times as big. This is a world where shit like that is always happening.

Your teachers are always telling you [high school students] to behave like adults. I wonder if they'd like it if you did. You may be loud and disorganized, but you're very docile compared to adults.... Imagine the reaction of an FBI agent or taxi driver or reporter to being told they had to ask permission to go the bathroom, and only one person could go at a time.

If you can keep hope and worry balanced, they will drive a project forward the same way your two legs drive a bicycle forward.

Author Picture
First Name
Last Name
Birth Date

English-born American Programmer, Venture Capitalist and Essayist known for his work on Lisp and for co-founding Viaweb (which became Yahoo! Store)