Hrefna Helgadóttir
Promogogo Product Manager & MakeWorkWork Co-Host

"everything about skiing is counterintuitive.
This is why you see a lot of skiing instructors,
and not a lot of running instructors."


1. Instincts

Your instincts about business are counterintuitive.
Your instincts about people are not.

2. Expertise

You don't need to be expert in startups.
You need to be an expert in the problem your startup is solving.

3. Gaming the System Doesn't Work

Users will use products that solve problems for them.
There is no 'keeping up appearances' hack for that.
Build the product. Make it good.

4. Starting a Business Young is Not Better

Ironically, working on domain expertise is probably a better use of your time than "attempting to start a business" because you really want to run a business. What the business does matters more than the mechanics of running a business.

5. Learn First

Trying too hard to build a company is a path to generic uninteresting solutions.
Working on interesting problems where "oh, we could structure a company around the solution we found" is how the biggest companies of today all started.

1. & 2.

I don't have anything to add

3. Appearance vs Doing the Work

There is no boss to trick, how can you trick people, when there is nobody to trick? There are only users and all users care about is whether your software does what they want, right? They're like sharks, sharks are too stupid to fool, you can't wave a red flag and fool it, it's like meat or no meat. You have to have what people want and you only prosper to the extent that you do.

In school we got away with making it look like we did all the work while 'hacking' our way to the appearance of doing the work, not actually doing the work.This might work in some corporate ladder work. It doesn't work in getting people to use your product. If the product is no good, no one will use it.

The work needs to get done.

"Gaming the system" doesn't work anymore. It might work a little bit with investors, but not with users.

4. Entropy

=> passing the point of no return

Entropy in physics means how some processes are irreversible.

Like you can boil an egg and then cool it down. Now you have a cold, boiled egg => not a raw egg. Whatever you do to that egg, it will not be raw again.

Starting a business is the same. You cross a point of no return. It will be all consuming, and take over your life and you can never go back to the point before you had a business.

That part of your life is now over.

Knowing that beforehand means you can build value into your life before you set out to start your business. That actually makes you more likely to succeed, because you have perhaps used your time to master a craft (see point 2) or gotten yourself to the bleeding edge of an exciting new field, where opportunities become clear to you.

Related to "The Adjacent Possible"

This idea of bleeding edge is closely related to 'the adjacent possible' which many have referenced, for example Cal Newport in his book "So Good They Can't Ignore You".

"The next big ideas in any field are found right beyond the current cutting edge, in the adjacent space that contains the possible new combinations of existing ideas"

He then adds:

We like to think of innovation as striking us in a stunning eureka moment, where you all at once change the way people see the world, leaping far ahead of our current understanding.

I’m arguing that in reality, innovation is more systematic. We grind away to expand the cutting edge, opening up new problems in the adjacent possible to tackle and therefore expand the cutting edge some more, opening up more new problems, and so on. “The truth,” Johnson explains, “is that technological (and scientific) advances rarely break out of the adjacent possible.”

The idea is that reaching the edge of a field brings you to the realms of what is possible given available resources, but haven't been done. Yet.

5. How to Get Product / Company Ideas

Don't try, first of all.

Instead try to work on things where solving the kind of problems that could become products or companies are almost a byproduct of what you're doing anyway.

"How do you turn your mind into the kind that has startup ideas unconsciously?

  • One, learn about a lot of things that matter.
  • Two, work on problems that interest you.
  • Three, with people you like and/or respect.

That's the third part incidentally, is how you get cofounders at the same time as the idea."

Solving interesting problems a) keeps your interest long enough so you could potentially solve it and b) makes you a domain expert in that field.

"At its best starting a startup is merely a ulterior motive for curiosity and you’ll do it best if you introduce the ulterior motive at the end of the process. So here is ultimate advice for young would be startup founders reduced to two words: just learn."

Learning the mechanics of business is basically useless: complicated problems are valuable. The classic subjects are classic for a reason. Physics, philosophy, sciences => in other words, training our brains to solve problems.


Imma do this in reverse now. Reverse-ish.

1. Become an expert in your field
Learning complicated things and understanding them and being able to solve problems is rare and valuable.

2. Reach the cutting edge
You now see opportunities in the 'adjacent possible' that you wouldn't possibly know about unless you'd done all the initial work.

3. Humans
By this point you've probably worked with lots of different people, so you know who you work well with, who you trust, and have a plethora of industry contacts.

4. Get Started
Know that once you started, you're crossing a point of no return.

5. Do the Work
The best 'hack' to get investors and users and other desirables, is by making a good product. A product people use. Better yet, a product people pay for.


So Good They Can't Ignore You by Cal Newport