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My series of notes on Y Combinator’s Startup Library:

Original: http://www.paulgraham.com/relres.html

My notes

Takeaway: “Make something people want” is the destination, but “Be relentlessly resourceful” is how you get there.

A couple days ago I finally got being a good startup founder down to two words: relentlessly resourceful.

Till then the best I’d managed was to get the opposite quality down to one: hapless. Hapless implies passivity. To be hapless is to be battered by circumstances — to let the world have its way with you, instead of having your way with the world. Unfortunately there’s no antonym of hapless, which makes it difficult to tell founders what to aim for. “Don’t be hapless” is not much of rallying cry.

What would someone who was the opposite of hapless be like? They’d be relentlessly resourceful. Not merely relentless. That’s not enough to make things go your way except in a few mostly uninteresting domains. In any interesting domain, the difficulties will be novel. Which means you can’t simply plow through them, because you don’t know initially how hard they are; you don’t know whether you’re about to plow through a block of foam or granite. So you have to be resourceful. You have to keep trying new things.

Be relentlessly resourceful.

Now that we know what we’re looking for, that leads to other questions. For example, can this quality be taught? I’d say that yes, surprisingly often it can. Not to everyone, but to many people. This is particularly true of young people who have till now always been under the thumb of some kind of authority. Being relentlessly resourceful is definitely not the recipe for success in big companies, or in most schools.

If you want to know whether you’re the right sort of person to start a startup, ask yourself whether you’re relentlessly resourceful. And if you want to know whether to recruit someone as a cofounder, ask if they are.

If I were running a startup, this would be the phrase I’d tape to the mirror. “Make something people want” is the destination, but “Be relentlessly resourceful” is how you get there.