How To Make It as a
First-Time Entrepreneur

How to Make it as a First-Time Entrepreneur

Vinicius Vacanti is co-founder and CEO of Yipit. Next posts on how to acquire users for free and how to raise a Series A. Don’t miss them by subscribing via email or via twitter.

A few days ago, Facebook Co-Founder Dustin Moskovitz said that Y-Combinator’s “No Idea” round for entrepreneurs is “really wrong”.

He further says “the only reason you should become an entrepreneur is because that’s the only way the idea will come into the world.”

What’s funny is that had a young Mark Zuckerberg taken his advice, Dustin might not be a billionaire right now.

It’s not like Mark Zuckerberg dreamed up the idea for Facebook and then turned himself into an entrepreneur to make it happen. Facebook wasn’t Mark’s first project.

He had worked on a bunch of projects from building an algorithm that suggested the next song to play in your mp3 player to a site that compared pictures of people.

It’s not like these were unbelievable ideas that Mark simply had to put into the world. What he had was a passion for solving problems, creating interesting solutions. The skills he learned working on those projects prepared him for Facebook.

And, while some people take the jump into startups because they have an idea that they really want built, the idea itself rarely works.

What keeps them going is that they realize they have a passion for spotting large unsolved problems, creating crafty initial solutions to those problems, building things from scratch, defying the odds, refusing to fail, proving wrong those that doubted them, convincing talented people to help them, fighting off competitors, seeing millions of people use their solution, rewarding those that believed in them and ultimately changing how the world works.

It’s not about that one brilliant idea. Ideas come and go and often don’t seem very magical at first. It’s about your passion for taking an idea, running with it and building off of your progress.

And, so I thank Y-Combinator for helping to dispel the myth that to become an entrepreneur you need a moment of brilliance.

The last thing we need is people convincing smart and talented potential entrepreneurs that they should be waiting around for that brilliant idea.

Those ideas rarely come until someone starts walking down the startup path. And, even when an idea for the next big thing does come, it rarely looks like it.

Vinicius Vacanti is co-founder and CEO of Yipit. Next posts on how to acquire users for free and how to raise a Series A. Don’t miss them by subscribing via email or via twitter.

  • http://twitter.com/chrisamccoy Chris McCoy

    if you cant execute code, you are effed. yes, a bad idea for non e’s.

    • http://viniciusvacanti.com Vinicius Vacanti

      The good news is that it’s getting easier and easier to teach yourself to execute code.

      • http://twitter.com/chrisamccoy Chris McCoy

        Disqus generic email template

        I agree, and understanding it is really the only way to go. But going into an idea round without that ability is like putting a raw athlete on the field before they’re ready. They need that training/understanding first.

        *From:* Disqus [mailto:notifications@disqus.net]
        *Sent:* Monday, May 07, 2012 8:01 AM
        *To:* chrism@yoursports.com
        *Subject:* [viniciusvacanti] Re: Y-Combinator’s “No Idea” Round Isn’t a Bad Idea, It’s Awesome

        [image: DISQUS]

        Vinicius Vacanti wrote, in response to Chris McCoy:

        The good news is that it’s getting easier and easier to teach yourself to execute code.

        Link to comment

        • http://viniciusvacanti.com Vinicius Vacanti

          Absolutely and I doubt they’ll take a team who can’t code.

  • http://www.marketing.fm Anonymous

    I think this apply’s to YipIt as well and you and Jim.  You certainly had “some idea” and I think thats what matters.  Ultimately it wasn’t “the idea” that you started with but rather the journey that got you there.  I agree that its a positive thing overall.

    • http://viniciusvacanti.com Vinicius Vacanti

      I really believe most people can have “some idea” and that’s all you really need to get started.

  • Justin Overdorff

    Vin, i think your post is right on. If you’re a person who is passionate about solving big problems, creating and building a business, then being an entrepreneur is a great path. The Y-Combinator “no-idea” round helps get some of those people over the hump that normally would be waiting for “the big idea.” I think what Dustin was getting at is this surge of “I WANT TO BE AN ENTREPRENEUR” mentality coming from people who merely say this b/c they see the surge of wealth/attention from startup CEOs and they think it is an easy process, that execution is just a matter of taking an idea and running your business well. They don’t understand the fact that founders, much like yourself, go through not months, but years of grinding out through the startup process with no glory, no sign of success nor a guarantee of one. For those, Y-Combinators move is pouring gas on a fire that is sure to burn buildings down – but I’m sure Y-Combinator is smart enough to see through that in the applicants and will hopefully jump start a few entrepreneurial careers that might not have happened otherwise!

    • http://viniciusvacanti.com Vinicius Vacanti

      Agree with you and have no doubt Y-Combinator will do a good job of sorting through the team that are just doing it for the perceived glory.

  • http://www.facebook.com/lfittl Lukas Fittl

    There is a difference though between taking investment for a “no-idea” company, and hacking around on many things before finding the right one.

    Having taken investment increases your sunken cost, therefore leads to you being more likely to stick to the first thing you find – despite it clearly not working.

    Most startup founders go through a long-time of experimenting before taking the plunge – and that serves as a good filter to find the nuggets within the noise.

    I’d think that the outcome mostly depends on how YC selects the founders, first-time experimenters vs people who just didn’t commit yet (but who have run experiments/hacks/etc before) and how good they are at encouraging teams to change what they’re doing in the middle of the program.

    • http://viniciusvacanti.com Vinicius Vacanti

      I don’t think it’s a good idea to raise a round of funding before your product has proven itself.

      • http://twitter.com/jefffrese JeffFrese

         Being accepted into Y Combinator comes with raising a round of funding.

        • http://viniciusvacanti.com Vinicius Vacanti

          That’s not a round of funding. It’s a convertible, no-cap note with very little pressure from anyone.

  • Alejandro Espinoza

    Dude, the difference is that Mark Zuckenberg had an idea. It doesn’t matter how many he had before or after. It matters that he had one, and he pursued it.

    If you are not creative enough to even come up with an idea, then you really have to start wondering if you really should be looking to be an entrepreneur.

    “The French infinitive ‘entreprendre’ translates as ‘to undertake’ ” (from Wikipedia). If you have no idea, then you are not undertaking anything. If you join YCombinator without an idea, you are passionate about nothing. 

    I’m sorry, but I think in this time, people should find their place in the world, if you have no ideas to undertake, then undertake other people’s ideas by joining an existing company.

    • http://www.facebook.com/kevintangy Kevin Lance Tang

      Couldn’t agree more to this.

      Zuckerberg had ideas. Many of them. As do all good entrepreneurs.

    • http://viniciusvacanti.com Vinicius Vacanti

      Another way to think about it is that entreprendre doesn’t mean ‘to have an idea’.

      • Alejandro Espinoza

        It doesn’t mean JUST that. But it all start with an idea. The execution of your idea will define if you are entrepreneur or not. Without a purpose you have nothing to undertake.

  • http://twitter.com/nickthedude nickthedude

    Right on! I like the no idea round as well.

  • Sebastian

    True words.  Great ideas aren’t born with a bang – they are nurtured from many efforts and failures.  The process builds a knowledge and understanding in the entrepreneur that allows him/her to understand deeply the possibilities and find real opportunities. And of course, failure itself is a great training ground for improvement. Nice analysis.

    • http://viniciusvacanti.com Vinicius Vacanti

      Totally agree.

  • Kevin Codey

    I think it’s a great way for y comb to get born entrepreneurs into their net, without a having an idea.  I really think that as entrepreneurs you know you are one since the age of 10.  However, I think its hard for Y comb to know how good of an entrepreneur you are through an application.  I almost feel as if they have to interview almost everyone to get a real feel for each time that applies without an idea.

    • http://viniciusvacanti.com Vinicius Vacanti

      It’s too bad the interviews are so short.

  • Guest

    I generally agree with your premise that brilliant people who love solving problems should never be discouraged and that many of the best entrepreneurs are compelled to create and enjoy the process. However, there is a subtle point Dustin is making that i suspect you are misunderstanding. His comment can be interpreted less controversially as “Make something you are the most suited for”. 
    This makes absolute sense and you’d be hard pressed to find people who became successful at anything whose backgrounds cannot be very well matched to the problem they are solving.

    To use your facebook example, while Zuckerberg might not have constructed facebook as it is today in one moment of brilliance, It can be argued that he was the one person in the world who was best suited to bringing that application to life. 

    i) He was a college student
    ii) He has said repeatedly that he always had discussions with friends at harvard about a social web
    iii) He loved making web applications for people and was pretty good at it
    iv) He was in Harvard at a time when Harvard was clamoring for a facebook
    v) He wanted to work for himself

    You’d be hard pressed to find someone else who had all of these things “happen to them” at the exact same time.

    For apple, who else besides steve jobs and steve wozniak could have brought the world the PC?

    Twitter, who else besides someone who wrote dispatch software and had real-time dreams embedded in his head for donkey-years?

    Instagram, who else besides someone/people who actually LOVE photography?

    It’s not that the idea generation is deterministic, it’s that the kind of people that will score a break through in an area is largely deterministic even though the specific people might be randomly selected.

    It’s easy to take the most literal interpretation of Dustin’s comments…and maybe that interpretation is what he implied. However, I think he is saying something more subtle : “Be the best man for the job”.

    That my friends makes a whole lot of sense.

    • http://viniciusvacanti.com Vinicius Vacanti

      I believe many people have what it takes but just need some prodding.

  • http://twitter.com/jonslimak Jon Slimak

    It will be a very interesting experiment. If the outcome is good, it might be a big influence. Its definitely a sign of changing times and kind of reminds me of the sport and entertainment industry. 

    • http://viniciusvacanti.com Vinicius Vacanti

      Interesting comparison. Can’t wait to see how it turns out.

  • Chip

    Not all smart people are smart enough start and run a company. Not all dumb people are to dumb to start a company. How do you know you will like Hawaii unless you take that journey!

    • http://viniciusvacanti.com Vinicius Vacanti

      I wish more people would try it.

  • Han Gu

    Couldn’t agree more on the following 
    “What keeps them going is that they realize they have a passion for spotting large unsolved problems, creating crafty initial solutions to those problems, building things from scratch, defying the odds, refusing to fail, proving wrong those that doubted them, convincing talented people to help them, fighting off competitors, seeing millions of people use their solution, rewarding those that believed in them and ultimately changing how the world works.”

    Passion is the fuel that keeps the fire going, and it’s definitely the difference maker.