The Creative Act of Startup Building
Let's take a break from tactical product and go-to-market musings
With the infinite number of books, podcasts, newsletters, blogs, and tweets providing advice to founders, you would think that starting a company has become a bit of a science. Obviously, it’s not. There is no perfect “guide” out there to build your startup. Sure, there are plenty of very valuable hints and lessons and horror stories and playbooks and warnings and hot takes, but no, there is no science.
The “art” of building a startup is not only business and technical acumen, but also creativity. Those who study and teach creativity define it as the process that forms something new and valuable. Sounds a whole lot like startup building if you ask me. Regardless of industry - from viral consumer apps to data pipelines - founders must be creative.
I thought about this while flipping through Rick Rubin’s book on creativity: The Creative Act: A Way of Being. Because I’ve been living and breathing this startup world for the past couple of years, I naturally digested the book from the lens of the founder's journey. There were three particular quotes in the “rules” chapter that particularly resonated:
“Limiting your palette to something manageable forces you to solve something in a different way.”
By design, startups are constrained by capital, resources, and distribution. It is these constraints that force startups to focus on delivering incredible value to users (or else, die).
“Rules direct us to average behaviors. If we’re aiming to create works that are exceptional, most rules don’t apply. Average is nothing to aspire to. The goal is not to fit in. If anything, it’s to amplify the differences, what doesn’t fit, the special characteristics unique to how you see the world. Instead of sounding like others, value your own voice. Develop it. Cherish it.”
Startups can’t just copy the incumbents. They have to offer a fundamentally different future and, as Mike Maples would put it, “bend the arc of the present to that different future.”
“The rules artists learn are different. They are assumptions, not absolutes. They describe a goal or method for short-term or long-term results. They are there to be tested. And they are only of value as long as they are helpful. They are not laws of nature.”
If Uber, Lyft, and Airbnb adhered to the rules of their environment, they would have never come to fruition and we would still be hailing taxis and booking expensive hotel rooms.
Raman at Rhetoric