I’m a long time fan of Paul Graham’s work and leadership in the startup world.

I remember the first time I met him over in Cambridge, he said, “why do you VCs wait for traction? Why can’t you invest pre-product and seed companies more”

We then discussed our model, how we often invest early and have no problem backing first time founders. I learned a lot from that session and it helped me not to accept that any of the traditional rules of venture capital should be written in stone. I’m told we were the first Boston firm to back a YC company. Back in those days his wife and partner Jessica would reserve seats for investors that backed YC companies because there wasn’t that many of us. Contrast that to YC Demo Day today and the difference and progress is quite remarkable.

In addition to their fine work at YC, Paul’s essays are legendary. One of my favorite things about his essays is at the end of many of his posts he thanks folks that helped with his thoughts. I love that.

Yesterday morning I was speaking with my colleague Andrew and an entrepreneur about this thing that Paul does and how I would love to see the remarks that those people make to his essays. Wouldnt it be great to see Paul Buchheit or Harj’s feedback — either in real time or after the fact somehow.

So it was pretty cool to read this morning Evan Williams has developed a new collaboration system over at Medium. I think it’s a powerful idea that is wonderful for the writer, the collaborators and the reader. It’s more than comments, it’s the evolution of peer production and I’m quite excited to see what this can take us.

Paul Graham’s Determination

I just tweeted out a link to Paul Graham’s latest essay, The Anatomy of Determination.

There is a lot to like about it.

I especially like Paul’s thoughts about determination. He leads off with:

We learned quickly that the most important predictor of success is determination. At first we thought it might be intelligence. Everyone likes to believe that’s what makes startups succeed. It makes a better story that a company won because its founders were so smart. The PR people and reporters who spread such stories probably believe them themselves. But while it certainly helps to be smart, it’s not the deciding factor. There are plenty of people as smart as Bill Gates who achieve nothing.

There is one part of the post that made me pause. Nature vs nurture’s role with determination is an uncomfortable concept for me.

A good deal of willfulness must be inborn, because it’s common to see families where one sibling has much more of it than another. Circumstances can alter it, but at the high end of the scale, nature seems to be more important than nurture. Bad circumstances can break the spirit of a strong-willed person, but I don’t think there’s much you can do to make a weak-willed person stronger-willed.

I’m not so sure I agree with that.

But Paul follows it up with one of my favorite parts. Paul talks about the need to be “hard on yourself”:

Being strong-willed is not enough, however. You also have to be hard on yourself. Someone who was strong-willed but self-indulgent would not be called determined. Determination implies your willfulness is balanced by discipline.

That’s so right. Being intellectually honest is the difference between being determined vs being delusional.

It’s a fine line that many of us are guilty of crossing from time to time.

I highly suggest reading the entire essay. Overall it’s quite excellent even if there are a few parts that don’t work for me.