Rob Liu

May 21, 2024

Startup Curriculum

Summary

  1. Idea / Product: Rob's How to Start a Startup YouTube course or blog. YC's course: original by Sam Altman, current course. First Round's product-market fit series. Running Lean book.  Techstar's toolkit, Steal like an artist for stealing ideas

  2. Growth marketing: Jared Codling's YouTube, Brian Dean: SEO hub, YouTube hub, Content hub, Ahref's, Shani's writing course, 500 distro, WMD Conference Andrew Chen's blog and Cold Start Problem. Marketing School podcast. Sean Ellis's blog and hacking growth book. Noah Kagan's blog and book. Trust Me I'm Lying. Hooked, Lean Analytics

  3. Sales: Saastr University, Founding sales, Contactout's 50+ real recorded sales calls, Predictable revenues, Impossible to inevitable, SPIN Selling, Challenger sale. Price intelligently

  4. Productivity: Work Ethic by Rob, The One Thing, The War of Art, Atomic Habits, 4-hour work week, tools of Titans. Mindset: Purpose by Rob, Self Compassion, Four Agreements, Fountainhead, Alamanack of Naval Ravikant, Code of the Extraordinary Mind,   Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck, Blitzkrieg by Oliver Samwer lol

  5. Management: Crucial Conversations, 1-minute manager, CEO within. Walter Isaacson's books on Elon Musk, Steve Jobs management style. Duncan's blog and substack. Micromanagement is good according to: Zuckerberg, Nvidia CEO and Shopify founder. Hiring: Contactout's Recruitment Hub, Who A method for hiring

  6. Raising money: Hustle Fund: Raise Millions, Deck Doctors, what investors look for. Investor lists: All investors, southeast Asia, VC firms

  7. Learn fast: 1 book per week. Listen to audiobooks, videos, and podcasts at 3x speed while going for jogs. Practice speed reading also. Podcasts 20VC, My First Million, a16z podcast, Marc & Ben, inDepth, Sequoia podcast, YC podcast, the social radars, Village Global podcast, Lenny's podcast, Marketing school, Bill Gates podcast. Books: Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, Lean Startup, Running Lean, Singularity is Near, Zero To One, Setting The Table, Blitzscaling, Losing My Viriginity, Hard Thing About Hard Things, Founders at work, Idea factory

Product / Idea

  • Our How to Start a Startup Youtube course or here's the blog version. All our learnings with a focus on actionable stuff: screenshares, step-by-step tactics, meeting recordings, case studies. Are web designers in demand in 2022?

  • First Round Capital's product-market fit series Stories with exact steps on how unicorn companies developed their idea and got to product market fit

  • YC's Startup Course original 2015 course by Sam Altman is most popular. How to build the future course also has great speakers. The 2017 Stanford course is great too. The current startupschool.org/curriculum does not have as accomplished speakers as the older courses. Also YC resource library and Sam Altman's blog and paulgraham.com. YC's learnings can be summarized as: 1. talk to users. 2. build something people want.

  • Techstar's toolkit is shorter, covers similar topics, they're the no.2 accelerator.

  • Running Lean is a great framework on how to think about developing startups ideas in the most efficient way possible. e.g testing and talking to customers before building product. It's based on Lean Startup. Lean Analytics is also great. Business Model Generation is another book on the same topic

  • a16z blog Marc's old blog, Marc & Ben podcast. Top VC fund. Marc created the browser Also product market fit by Sequoia the other top fund.

  • Startup.com playbooks and videos are also good, and similar course to Techstars

  • Steal like an artist describes how original ideas come from stealing from 100 sources. e.g for personal computers, Microsoft copied, Apple, who copied Xerox who copied Doug Engelbart at Stanford, described in Innovators. Even Einstien copied when developing on his theory of relativity

  • The best way to get ideas is to study lots of companies, that's why investors have a good sense because they see thousands of startup pitches. Watch 100+ startup pitches here: YC, 500, Techstars, GSV, SOSV, Techcrunch.

  • Pick an industry with a large market size of at least $1bn+ revenue because counter intuitively it's easier to succeed on a large problem than a small one. See Part 1 and Part 2 of our course. An easy way to do is is to find an existing company in an industry making at least $1bn+ revenue to disrupt.

  • Study 100+ companies on YC's startup directory or on Crunchbase. See Part 3

    • e.g: YC: B2B SaaS, Education, Finance, Health, CB: Agriculture, Robotics, AI

    • Go through their product, UX, website, marketing pages. Book sales calls with them, record it, study their sales collateral. Reverse engineer their marketing, study their backlinks and seo traffic, as well as paid keywords on ahrefs.com. Use Facebook ad library to study their ad copy. Find podcasts and Youtube interviews by the founders. Find their revenue on latka.com.

    • Find publicly listed companies in your industry and study their annual reports and financial statements, charities and government divisions also release public annual reports. The big industries are run by public companies and governments and they all share their reports

  • Resources on cool industries:

    • Singularity is Near talks about development in AI, biology, nanotech and more. Global issues: Bill Gates' Youtube channel covers technology on renewal energy, food security, sanitation, education and global health. Edtech: ASUGSV is an edtech conference with hundreds of companies pitching

    • AI & Computers: a16z's AI Cannon is a massive list of resources you'd need to read to learn AI technology and developments in the industry, Sequoia AI Ascent is another AI conference covering the latest AI companies. Innovators describes the history of how computers were invented, hundreds of people took part and everyone stole each others ideas and built upon them, the introduction is a bit slow but it's an amazing book. Idea factory talks about bell labs and the invention of the transition, information theory and microprocessors which are at the heart of modern day computers. Dealers of Lightening talks about Xerox parc where the first personal computers, graphical user interface and the mouse were invented. Chip War talks about the global supply chain for how computers are made, design and software in USA, laser machines in Netherlands, chip foundries in Taiwan, assembly in China, and how there is a struggle between countries for economic power. Here's 1000 books about the history of technology from Marc Andreseen's library.

    • Biology: Craig Venter's biography talks about how he sequenced the human genome and made billions, Jennifier Doudna's biography talks about the invention of CRISPR which allows scientists to edit DNA and create genetically modified lifeforms. The implications being if we can decode and write the code of life itself. a16z's bio blog lists current biotech companies and there's lots of analysis on latest technologies.

  • Studying academic journals for ideas. (expand on this)

  • Find mentors. Find ex-employee and ex-founders of competitor companies or companies in the same industry but non-competitive. Watch how to find mentors or read part 20. Search on Linkedin and ask them for mentorship consider offering to pay for their time. The response rate is surprisingly high. You can also use platforms like intro.co, clarity.fm, or adplist.com, where there are lots of industry experts in sales, product, design etc, you can book the founder of Reddit or Loom for example. Also ThirdDoor talks about how a 19 year old kid was able to get in touch with Bill Gates for mentorship, in journey included ambushing Tim Ferriss in the toilet after a talk.

  • Talk to 100s of users. Here are some example interview recordings from ContactOut. Running Lean is a good framework for what we're trying to learn. The Mom Test has guidance on what to ask users. YC has lots of content on this also: link1, link2, link3. Figure out by asking users: what's something we can build that you will pay a lot of money for.

  • Learn fast. Listen to audiobooks at 3x speed whilst exercising. Aim to read 50 books per year minimum. I find that I fall asleep if I read for too long. Listening to content whilst going for walks is more efficient and I can keep it up for longer. Speed up the rate slowly until you get used to 3x speed. Blind people can understand 8x speed, so it's possible with training. Practice speed reading also.

  • Founders peer group (expand on this)

Growth Marketing

Sales

  • Building a sales organisation

  • How to sellOur article on Work Ethic summaries our learnings. The One Thing talks about picking the one most important thing every day. Not a todo list, just one thing, the highest impact thing that makes everything else easier or unnecessary. Eat That Frog talks about similar topics.

    • The best way to learn to sell is to book sales calls with all your competitors (using a different email) and then record the sales calls, and study their pitch, email communications and sales collateral. See part 6

    • Here's our 50+ real recorded sales calls from top companies like Asana, Hubspot, Paypal, Zoom, Shopify etc. We also publish the email scripts and pitch decks from these companies.

    • Founding sales describes how it's critical for the founder to make the first sales of the product and figure out the sales process before hiring sales reps and teaching them how to sell the product. Sales reps are unlikely to figure it out if the product hasn't been proven to sell.

    • SPIN Selling is a good sales framework, Challenger sale describes how to sell by teaching your customer. Never Split the Difference is the story of strategies used during FBI hostage negotiations, Cognism's blog has cold call scripts and email templates, Winning by design is also a good resource.

    • Here's a broad list of sales articles ContactOut's team made. Note: I haven't tested everything here.

    • (TBA expand on this): sales operations, lead assignment process (will make a video on this)

Productivity

  • Our article on Work Ethic summaries our learnings. The One Thing talks about picking the one most important thing every day. Not a todo list, just one thing, the highest impact thing that makes everything else easier or unnecessary. Eat That Frog talks about similar topics.

  • Log how many hours you work using TimeDoctor which is a simple stopwatch on your desktop. Only long your productive time, exclude breaks, social media, surfing web etc. Aim for 30 productive hours per week. When I did this I realized half the time I'm at my computer is not productive. You won't know until you measure. Group all meetings on one day of the week, ask everyone to write a written memo before each meeting - Amazon does this. Block off 2 hours each day and spend that working on your most important task.

  • The War of Art is possibly the most powerful book I've read on beating procrastination. Here's a quote: “Are you a born writer? Were you put on earth to be a painter, a scientist, an apostle of peace? In the end the question can only be answered by action. Do it or don't do it. It may help to think of it this way. If you were meant to cure cancer or write a symphony or crack cold fusion and you don't do it, you not only hurt yourself, even destroy yourself,. You hurt your children. You hurt me. You hurt the planet. You shame the angels who watch over you and you spite the Almighty, who created you and only you with your unique gifts, for the sole purpose of nudging the human race one millimeter farther along its path back to God. Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It's a gift to the world and every being in it. Don't cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you've got.

  • Atomic Habits has some great tips on daily habits for productivity. Tools of titans has a collection of interviews with billionaires on their daily rituals, productivity and learning hacks. 4 hour work week is a classic guide on outsourcing, work life balance, travel. Also Remote on working remotely and Rework from the same author talks about how you can start a business part time and you don't need to work long hours, nor raise lots of money. Turn on Blitzkrieg by Oliver Samwer for extra motivation =D

Mindset

  • (move this to seperate article and link part 11 part 19 at top?)

    To build a successful business, half the battle is just being determined enough to put in 10+ years and not give up. Steve jobs said: half of what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the non successful ones is pure perseverance. It takes at least 7 years to get a PhD. 12 years to become a doctor and at least 8 years to become a lawyer. Yet people think with startups that if you try and you fail after 2 years, 3 years, then you give up and it’s too hard. That’s not the case. It takes 10 years to become an expert in anything, and that includes startups. In fact, I don’t know anyone who has been doing a startup for 10 years and is not making at least a million dollars. See part 11 and part 19.

  • It's really not that hard to build a billion dollar business - according to my business partner Santosh, who was a part of 2 unicorn companies Zoominfo and Apollo. One thing Santosh said to me, was that comparing our team to Apollos (he was COO there). He felt that our team was the stronger team. Yet we're at 10m revenue and Apollo is a billion dollar company with 100m+ revenue. So why is this? Santosh said that whilst it on the surface there seemed to be hypergrowth and everything was great. There was tonnes of things broken, product not working, people not knowing what they're doing, lots of fires burning. But they got a couple of things right and really doubled down on those. Namely they introduce a plan with unlimited credits and got lots of word of mouth from it that drop growth, so having lots of other processes broken didn't matter.

    • The hardest part about doing a startup is getting your 10 paying customers, you got to build something people want and come up with a 10x better solution to a painful problem. Going from that to 1m revenue is still hard but not as hard. Your figuring out figuring out product market fit and hiring a team. 1m to 10m is easier your working on the go to market strategy and expanding the team. Going from 10m to 100m is "inevitable" according to Jason Lempkin because you've already got everything working the business will grow and compound organically.

    • Sam Altman also talks about this: Scale often has surprising emergent properties. Compounding exponentials are magic. In particular, you really want to build a business that gets a compounding advantage with scale. It is easier for a team to do a hard thing that really matters than to do an easy thing that doesn’t really matter; audacious ideas motivate people

  • Self belief and figuring out purpose and what I want to do with my life: Believing your capable helps you start and stay committed. Summary of learnings in Purpose blog post. Books:

    • Four Agreements describes how we're socially conditioned from a young age by our parents, teachers and society and it leaves us living by a set of beliefs that we haven't chosen and aren't always productive. We can break free of these limiting beliefs and come up with our own values. Code of the Extraordinary Mind is a more modern take on the same theme of limiting beliefs and "bullshit rules" and how live the way you want instead of how society wants you to live. The Fountainhead is a story about following ones own purpose, doing what you love and value and not caring too much what other people think. Talent is Overrated talks about how you can achieve anything if you put in 10 years or 10,000 hours of practice, e.g Mozart and Yiger woods both started at 3 years old and put in decades of practice to become world class. The Secret and Think and Grow Rich are popular books that also talk about how you can achieve anything you set your mind to, except they are bit cringe worthy because they forgot to mention you need to put in 10,000 hours+ of work.

  • Mental peace and being kind to oneself. I spent a lot of my 20s beating myself up mentally and I had a lot of social anxiety and inner demons. Needless to say, if your mental health isn't strong, then you'd struggle to be able to put in the 10,000 hours needed to be successful at a business. Inner peace, as corny as it may sound, is critical to success. Stamina and grit and just sticking at it long enough. Summary of my learnings in: overcoming anxiety and vulnerability blog posts. Here's the books that have helped me be kinder to myself and find mental peace:

    • Self Compassion is my all time favorite book and has had the bigger impact on my mental health. Here's a quote: There isn’t anything wrong with the imperfection of life as long as we don’t expect it to be other than it is. Happiness is not dependent on circumstances being exactly as we want them to be, or on ourselves being exactly as we’d like to be. Rather, happiness stems from loving ourselves and our lives exactly as they are, knowing that joy and pain, strength and weakness, glory and failure are all essential to the full human experience. Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word happy would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness. Emotions are just bodily sensations, they are like colors, neither good nor bad. Radical Acceptance talks about similar topics and how you can't control your emotions and the more you resist the worse it is.

    • The Power of Now also talks about how you are not your mind you the consciousness observing your mind. Happiness Trap describes acceptance commitment therapy, which is a therapy technique psychologists use that is based on accepting your emotions and not trying to change them. Alan Watts's lectures and books, book2 are great. Quotes: You are an aperture through which the universe is looking at and exploring itself. We are already perfect. The meaning of life is just to be alive. It is so plain and so obvious and so simple. And yet, everybody rushes around in a great panic as if it were necessary to achieve something beyond themselves. Siddarth covers similar topics. It's a parody of the life of Buddha but it's written by a Christian German poet Herman Hesse who won a Nobel literature prize.

    • Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck is about accepting that anything meaningful in life is going to be hard. Quotes: Don’t hope for a life without problems. Hope for a life with good problems. Happiness is found in solving problems, not avoiding them. Man's Search for Meaning describes the author's experience as a prison in a Nazi concentration camp. He concludes the meaning of life is found in every moment of living; life never ceases to have meaning, even in suffering and death. Quote: Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms - to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way

    • Or just get a puppy. There is something pretty special about having a creature around you that is happy all the time, love you unconditionally. And every time your dog sees crazy excited and looks at you like you're the greatest person ever. Whilst I was spending all this time reading personal development books, my partner was like why over analyze things, I'm go play with our puppy - which is probably the better approach. But hey, people's minds are wired differently so self reflection may work for some, and playing with a dog for others. It's a lot of work taking care of a dog though and I would have never gotten one - my partner wanted one and she takes care of it mostly.

      • Added benefit if you're single. I usually have 1-2 people come up to me every day I take my dog out for a walk commenting how cute my dog is. Perfect way to start a conversation. Much better than Tinder, just be like hey want to come walk my dog with me next time?  I would have spent at least 30% of mental capacity thinking about dating - all of which could be instead be focused on building a business.

Management

  • Overview: 1minute manager is a short read that talks about setting goals, delegation, giving feedback. CEO within and  matt mochary cirriculum is a more detailed framework that covers hiring, meetings, coaching, and organisation building. High growth handbook is another perspective on similar topics. Empowered and Inspired talk about product management and how to inspire and empower teams to own the process and build great products.

  • Micromanagement is good. Be across all the details. Mark Zuckerberg says: I don't actually believe in delegating that much. The way a founder should work is you should basically make as many decisions and get involved in as many things as you can. I mean you need to know where your limits are and where like you're just thrashing people because you're involved in something in a half-assed way and you don't have all the context, but I don't know. You need all these other awesome people because no matter how much time I put into all these things, there's still going to be so much stuff that I can't get to and we need awesome people who can do all the really important stuff that I'm not doing.

    • Shopify's founder Tobias says Micromanagement is bad is the dumbest idea on planet earth and has destroy more business value than anything else ever. The reason being if you want to make good decisions you need to know all the details, not just delegate and trust that it'll get done. By knowing the details and making as many decisions as possible especially on the most important things that's how you get a company aligned and moving quickly in the same direction. Another example is Jensen Huang of Nvidia who has 40 direct reports.

    • The best books I've read about management is Walter Isaacson's biographies of Elon Musk and Steve jobs. There is an insane level of attention to detail. Elon Musk knows where every screw is on his cars, every factory process, and has lived on factory floor for 2 years. Elon makes a lot of the core engineering decisions for his rockets and cars. Steve jobs go to the product design studio at Apple every day. He would obsess over the smallest details like the layout of circuit boards inside the computer. This is in contrast to professional managers who write books about delegation but have never founded a company themselves, read both perspectives and take what works for you. Creativity inc provides a counter persective on managing creatives and how Pixar was built.

    • Delegate but verify. I ask Shahed Khan the founder of Loom (a billion dollar business) in a private conversation his take on delegation. His take was that when he wants to hire someone for a new function, for example CFO. He would first go learn the function himself, so he'd know what good performance looks like. Then he'd go hire someone and work closely with that person for 3-6months where they'd make all decisions together, and he'd be across all the details. Finally when he confident the new hire is performing well, he'd be more hands off and focus on other areas of the business.

  • Communication: Crucial Conversations is my favorite book on effective communication. It describes a process for working through conflict: 1. start by stating common goals, hey I'm going to bring up some things that may be difficult to talk about, I really value our working relationship and want to hear your perspective. 2. Share facts not opinions: e.g instead of a “lazy team member,” the fact is “that team member did not complete their work last week.” 3. Tell your story: because the team member didn't complete their work last week, this is making me anxious about missing our goals for this year. 3. Ask for other people's story: I'd love to understand your perspective. 4. Talk tentatively. Your assumptions are not facts. Encourage testing, ask the other person to challenge your views.

    • Non-violent Communication is also a great book on the same topic. Radical candor talks about how to: 1. care personally for your team. 2. challenge directly, give clear and honest feedback, in a way where you let them know you have their best interests at heart. Dare to lead talks about the importance of vulnerability and allowing people to feel psychologically safe and talk about their problems. Leaders eat last by Simon Sinek also covers caring for your team and psychological safety. Principles by Ray Dalio talks having thoughtful disagreements, and getting to the best decision by seeking out the smartest people who disagreed with him so he could try to understand their reasoning.

  • Inspiring people with a really massive goal. Start with why describes how to to set a really important mission and that's what motivates both employees and customers. People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. Setting a massive mission is a key part of Elon Musk and Steve jobs's management style. e.g Apple's mission of bringing a personal computer to every person and SpaceX's mission of colonizing Mars. Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life, or do you want to come with me and change the world? Is how Steve Jobs convinced the CEO of Pepsi to quit and join Apple instead.

  • Written meetings at Contactout: On Mondays everyone on our team writes an update on Slack: 1. what did I do last week. 2. what did I learn. 3. what are my goals for next week. 4. Current challenges and discussion points Here's an example. Then we read each others updates, and we jump on meetings to discuss. We have all our meetings on Mondays so the rest of the week is free for deep work. This is based on Amazon's practice of writing all discussion points in a memo before a meeting.

    • I attend 8 meetings on Monday. Leadership team meeting with heads of departments. Two product team meetings. Marketing meeting. Athena.vc team meeting and three sales squad meetings. I don't do 1 on 1s since I can't talk to 50 people individually. Doing team meetings and reading everyone's weekly updates on slack let's me have a gauge on all the details, and talk to everyone on the team in an efficient way.

  • Team structure (todo)

    • current team structure

    • early team structure

Hiring (in progress)

  • When to hire: You want keep the team small until you reach product market fit and have proven you can get your first sales. One product team is sufficient, just the founders or the founders and a few engineers and a designer or product manager if necessary. Small teams are able to pivot and try lots of things faster. The most impactful products were all created by small teams. According to Marc Andresseen Javascript was created by 1 person, the web browser 2 people. The core Google search engine 2 people Larry and Serge, OpenAI's only has a handful of core architects. Only hire once you've validated that there's demand and you need to scale up to meet it. Most of the hard work of figuring out product market fit is small teams.

  • Who to hire: we focused on hiring people who are 2-10 years into their career and are individual contributors not managers. Hiring people with no experience is hard because you'd have to train them. And when you hire more senior people they'd tend to want to manage a team instead of building. Most of the work at a startup is building, there isn't so much people management needed, great people manage themselves. In fact Facebook is asking managers and directors to go back to coding and building product or quit. Also younger people tend to have a stronger work ethic because this is all new to them. Managers and executives have more experience, but because they've done it before it isn't as exciting the 2nd time. It works great to get a very experienced person as a mentor for a couple of hours a month, and have them coach a younger team members that you hire full time. You'd get both experience and work ethic and it'll be cost effective.

    • Fancy university degrees don't matter. Working at big name company is usually a negative indicator. Instead test people by giving them a project that reflects their actual job during the interview (more details below). We found that our best hires came from tier 2 universities and worked at startups not big name companies. That's because if you're the head of growth at a large late stage company and you probably joined after the company figured out product market fit and the growth model, so your not really doing much, your just optimizing. The company will grow regardless of what you do.

  • How to hire, Contactout's process:

    1. Here are some of our job ads: product manager ad, designer job ad

    2. Here's how we found candidates:

      1. For engineers did a search on Linkedin and looked for 7-12 years experience, title: engineer, and skills: PHP or Javascript, we looked for engineers in Asia and our salary range was $3500-$5000 USD / month. We assessed candidates via a written questionnaire and a coding test as well as looking at their github projects. For our engineering team we found that more senior hires worked better together because everyone had good code quality. Most of our engineering team is in the philippines, malaysia, and china. example1, example2, example

      2. For product managers we looked for

    3. Candidate outreach

  • Job description, sourcing on Linkedin, Angellist, etc, first round interview recordings. The first round we just sell the company. E.g pitch deck. Job description. Sell them on opportunity

  • Then we ask values questions. Examples and answers

  • 2nd round interview with head of department or ceo. Ask about background dig into experience. Go into detail about what achieved etc. See how well they explain projects and how they contributed, ask for references ask how their references would rate them etc. Top grading as mentioned in a method for hiring. Continue selling them on opportunity.

  • take home case assessment. Related to project.

  • assessment framework

  • Contactout's Recruitment Hub details our hiring process and our head of talent curated a few hundred recruiting articles. Here are some recordings of first round interviews we conducted.

  • Hiring: Contactout's Recruitment Hub, Who A method for hiring

  • Hiring (will make a video about this)

    • Hire people 2-3 years who can do the job not seniors

    • Hire remotely, prioritize developing countries over the west.

    • Degrees don't matter, values questions and case study

    • Get mentors

    • Don't delegate, work with people on the role for first 6 months.

    • job descriptions really sell the companies.

    • Link to some of our hiring resources.

    • Who A method for hiring

    • Hiring (video outline)

      • interview questions

      • responses

      • case challenges

      • examples from team

      • youth beats experience

Raising Money

Tax

Deep Tech

Founders groups

Health!
Attia and Glucose goddess

EO / YPO stuff

(TBA) All advice is wrong - trust your gut, nobody knows your business better than you do.