Arrow icon
Ness Labs: Make the most of your mind
Learn more about Joggo

A Summary of

A Student's Guide to Startups

Paul Graham
Paul Graham
View original

Starting your own start-up after undergraduate is an option that is being considered by more students. But why wait? Tip: if you're not certain, you should wait. Historically the opportunities to start startups have only increased with time. Mid-twenties would be the sweet spot for startup founders.  

Advantages of Being a Young Founder


  • It's necessary for younger founders to work long hours because they're probably not as efficient as they'll be later.
  • You can’t build a successful startup working 9 to 5.


  • The worst thing you can do in a startup is to have a rigid, pre-ordained plan and then start spending a lot of money to implement it.
  • Better to operate cheaply and give your ideas time to evolve.
  • When you are in your mid-twenties, you can live cheaply because you don’t have the financial responsibilities a 35-year-old does (family, house, etc.) but you also have some experience, which a 20-year-old lacks.
  • You understand better how and why it is important to provide a product that is cheap and accessible.


  • When you're young you're more mobile—you don’t have as many material ties and are less likely to have serious relationships.
  • With startups, flexibility is key, and living in a place that isn’t a startup hub (ex. Miami, Chicago, Houston) will be detrimental.


  • Successful startups are almost never started by one person.
  • The best place to meet them is school. You have a large sample of smart people; you get to compare how they all perform on identical tasks; and everyone's life is pretty fluid- an opportunity you might not have again as you get older.
  • Another place is at work. Look for companies with smart, young individuals- start up hubs/startups.


  • Not knowing how hard it will be, can prevent you from being too intimidated to start.
  • Ignorance can also help you discover new ideas. 
    • Steve Wozniak: “All the best things that I did at Apple came from (a) not having money and (b) not having done it before, ever.” You don’t realize the implications, so you just go for it!

The Disadvantage of Being a Young Founder: Lack of Work Experience

Work experience gives you an understanding of what work is and how intrinsically horrible it is. The equation is: spend most of your waking hours doing stuff someone else wants, or starve.

The most important advantage 24-year-old founders have over 20-year-old founders is that they know what they're trying to avoid. When you are older and have learned the relationship between money and work, it translates to something way more important: it means you get to opt-out of the brutal equation that governs the lives of most people. You don't get money just for working, but for doing things other people want. Someone who's figured that out will automatically focus more on the user.

What to Do Now

  1. Learn how startups work while you are still in school by watching them in action, go work for one! Business classes and books are fairly useless.
  2. Take advantage of the wealth of co-founders. Look at the people around you and ask yourself which you'd like to work with.
  3. Learn skills that will be useful to you. Don’t learn skills you'd learn to get a job, like (Java and C++), but learn how to understand users and figure out how to give them what they want.

If you're going to start a startup, don't write any of the code while you're still employed

Or at least discard any code you wrote while still employed and start over. Most employee agreements say that any idea relating to the company's present or potential future business belongs to them. To be safe either: 1. Don't use code written while you were still employed in your previous job, or 2. Get your employer to renounce, in writing, any claim to the code you write for your side project Many will consent to 2 rather than lose a prized employee. The downside is that you'll have to tell them exactly what your project does.

Related content
See all posts
Arrow icon