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Pete Forde selected ruby, pinball and film photography as his weapons of choice

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    How would I get started?


    Last night on Hacker News, someone asked a simple question with a complicated answer: “I want to build a cable company. How would I get started?

    I’m really disappointed in the universally pessimistic and generally unhelpful answers this question received. Some people pitched some interesting ideas and helpful analysis, but most of the replies reinforced the notion that Hacker News readers are predominantly male know-it-alls and on the average, a bunch of snarky dicks.

    And yet Hacker News folk must be drawn at least somewhat by Paul Graham, who applauds frighteningly ambitious startup ideas.

    I for one would love to see a site where all it does is break down what would actually be involved in trying to disrupt major industries. What a fascinating series that could be:

    • I want to start a new airline. How would I get started?
    • I want to launch a new courier service. How would I get started?
    • I want to create a fair insurance company. How would I get started?
    • I want to colonize Mars. How would I get started?
    • I want to be a mercenary for hire. How would I get started?
    • I want to start a cult/religion. How would I get started?
    • I want to become a cyborg and upload my consciousness. How would I get started?
    • I want to be a porn star. How would I get started?

    Obviously the chances are stacked against a newcomer to any entrenched market. However, why does everyone assume that the inquiring mind is an idiot?

    Let’s use a simple example: Elon Musk.

    • I want to drop out of Stanford after two days to start a company that provides online content publishing software to news organizations. How would I get started?
    • I want to launch an online payment system, even though a half-dozen virtual wallet startups have failed. How would I get started?
    • I want to be the first private company to launch a rocket into space, legitimize private space travel as an industry, become a primary vendor to NASA and ultimately colonize other planets. How would I get started?
    • I want to start a company that makes economically and logically viable electric cars that can be recharged in half an hour for free at solar charging stations around the world, even though electric cars have failed to make an impact since the 1890s and the entire gamut of politics and finance will probably try to screw me out of existence. How would I get started?

    Shame on any of you that wouldn’t see this question for what it is: an amazing opportunity for some very smart minds to brainstorm around a puzzle that everyone else considers unanswerable.


    We owe it to ourselves to treat an interesting question with more respect. Patronizing replies that assume something frighteningly ambitious is impossible lowers the civility of our discourse and limits its value to something far below what we say we aspire to.

    Remember: after Friendster, Orkut and MySpace… does anyone really want to find their friends on another social network?

    "The popular image of the visionary is someone with a clear view of the future, but empirically it may be better to have a blurry one."

    Paul Graham

    Images are of Philippe Petit’s 1974 high-wire walk between the Twin Towers of New York’s World Trade Center. If you haven’t seen Man on Wire, you really owe it to yourself to check it out.

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    Tags: elon musk hacker news startups hard problems