Starting a Startup


This handbook helps tech startup founders improve their product, growth, recruiting, and fundraising.

Here are the core lessons, which you can read in any order:

  1. Market pull: Which startups succeed the most?
  2. Finding ideas: Where can you find big startup ideas?
  3. Acquiring customers (Popular): What's the most effective way to acquire customers?
  4. Retaining users: What are you doing to keep customers around?
  5. Hiring (Popular): How can you convince the best people to join your startup?
  6. Fundraising: What are the most common reasons why investors pass on a startup?

Below are optional resources. These are dry, so read them on an as-needed basis:

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About this handbook

I've spent years sifting through thousands of companies to try identifying what the successful ones have in common. This handbook represent those findings. The data comes from three sources:

This handbook is widely recommended within Silicon Valley because it contains zero fluff and proposes frameworks many founders haven’t learned before.

Our startup process

Here's the loose process we'll follow for building a startup:

Step 1: Experience a problem yourself so that you can propose a realistic solution in the form of a startup. Talk to others to ensure there’s enough people who suffer from the same problem.

Step 2: Identify the market opportunity. Use the “Why now” market timing process from Lesson 2 to identify the most promising startup ideas. The most de-risked idea is often whichever has the most “market pull,” which ensures people will actually buy your product. Market pull is described in Lesson 1.

Step 3: Build the smallest effective version of your product. Do not do more work than is necessary to roughly solve the problem and prove that people will continually use the product.

Step 4: Iterate on your product so that it maximizes user happiness (“net promoter score”) and users’ desires to continue using the product (“stickiness”). Stickiness is covered in Lesson 4.

Step 5: Scale growth—targeting one persona at a time. Don’t make your product everything to everyone. Instead, be an incredible solution for a select few then iteratively expand your audience until you’re sticky for as many people as possible without diluting or bloating your product. (If you go too broad, competitors can pick you apart by doing a better job focusing on narrower use cases.) I cover growth in Acquiring Customers, Growth Channels, and Growth Teams.

Step 6: Hire an increasingly better team. I cover hiring in Lesson 6 and Growth Teams.

Who's Julian Shapiro?

I spend thousands of hours deconstructing how things work. I compile my insights into free handbooks like the one you're reading. Over a million people read them annually. Insights that don't make it in are shared on Twitter.

Outside of writing, I invest in startups through my seed fund and Deep Checks. Previously, I coded the world's most popular web animation engine, Velocity.js, and I founded Demand Curve, the largest educator in startup marketing. More here.

Next page — Market Pull

How to identify the startups most likely to succeed.