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A lot of would-be startup founders think the key to the whole process is the initial idea, and from that point all you have to do is execute. If you go to VC firms with a brilliant idea that you'll tell them about if they sign a nondisclosure agreement, most will tell you to get lost. The market price is less than the inconvenience of signing an NDA.Another sign of how little the initial idea is worth is the number of startups that change their plan en route.

The way a startup makes money is to offer people better technology than they have now.

But what people have now is often so bad that it doesn't take brilliance to do better.

Good people can fix bad ideas, but good ideas can't save bad people. One of the best tricks I learned during our startup was a rule for deciding who to hire. It might be hard to translate that into another language, but I think everyone in the US knows what it means.

It means someone who takes their work a little too seriously; someone who does what they do so well that they pass right through professional and cross over into obsessive.

And while they probably have bigger ambitions now, this alone brings them a billion dollars a year.

[1]There are plenty of other areas that are just as backward as search was before Google.

March 2005(This essay is derived from a talk at the Harvard Computer Society.)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.

Most startups that fail do it because they fail at one of these.

I can think of several heuristics for generating ideas for startups, but most reduce to this: look at something people are trying to do, and figure out how to do it in a way that doesn't suck.

For example, dating sites currently suck far worse than search did before Google. They seem to have approached the problem by thinking about how to do database matches instead of how dating works in the real world.

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