The Best of Sahil Lavingia: Big Ideas From His Last 3,000 Tweets

Dear Everybody,

Sahil Lavingia is the founder and CEO of Gumroad. He also tweets.

I organized and distilled his last 3,000 tweets into a summary of his big ideas, in two parts:

  1. Business, Learning, and Life Philosophy

  2. Aphorisms and Advice on Career and Business


PART ONE: BUSINESS, LEARNING, AND LIFE PHILOSOPHY


Learn to build…

  • Opinionated products are not designed by committee

  • No one knows until everyone knows, and by then it’s too late

  • Create what you think should exist

  • Build the necessary first, then the useful, then the nice

  • Ship as if you already know, then iterate

Build to learn…

  • Build to learn how to build

  • Build to learn what to build

  • Build to learn what you’re building

Do less research before building, not more…

  • It doesn’t matter what you build, it matters that you start building

  • The longer you wait to build, the more likely you won’t

  • The longer you wait for it to become easier, the more competition you will have

You won’t know all the answers before you begin…

  • You won’t even know all the questions years after you begin

  • Stop asking questions. Start answering them

Improve your intuition…

  • Make 10,000 corrected mistakes, compounded over time

  • Make decisions faster than you feel comfortable

  • Make decisions with incomplete information

Build things you wish people built for you…

  • You can tell when a product is made by people who had fun making it

  • Your product is only as good as the experiences it enables people to have

  • If you make something enough people want and pay for, you will win

  • If you want your product to be really great, it has to be really focused

Help customers, then get out of the way…

  • Customers have more money than VCs do

  • Customers keep businesses alive

  • Customers turn into repeat customers

  • Customers turn non-customers into customers

Quality means your customers sell…

  • Don’t spend your money to market your business

  • Don’t try to grow your audience, create value for your existing audience

  • No one can sell your product better than someone who has already paid for it

One lover is worth a thousand haters…

  • Hang out with your customers in casual, high-fidelity environments

  • Compile a more accurate mental model of their day-to-day lives

  • Get to 100 customers and iterate on their feedback until they market for you

Work with exceptional people…

  • Hire generalists

  • Hire people who don’t need to hire people

  • Stay as small as you can

  • Learn by osmosis

Win by outlasting the competition…

  • Success comes slowly, then all at once

  • Once you have profits, spend that

  • Profitability gives you infinite leverage

  • It's easy to delude yourself when the alternative is layoffs

Consider starting a business…

  • Consider starting a sustainable business

  • Consider starting a sustainable business that matters

  • Consider starting a sustainable business that matters and makes a multi-decade point

Don’t self-reject in life…

  • Don't think you deserve the job? Apply anyway

  • The person who’s going to get the job is also unqualified

  • Distract yourself from rejection with another rejection

  • The rejection you should be afraid of is the one you just gave yourself

Work hard…

  • It takes years to get to the point where it takes an hour

  • Yet people spend years looking for a shortcut

  • Growth comes from doing things you don’t want to do

  • Magic is just hard work with the hard work disguised

Grow in public…

  • Disagree with smart people you respect about topics you really care about

  • Have interesting conversations in real life

  • Say things you believe that other people don't

  • Say "obvious" things other people believe but won't say

Learn skills for free…

  • (Education is necessary, school is not)

  • (Skills are useful, degrees are not)

  • Learn, then teach like you have something to learn

Learn to write…

  • Write like your audience is smart and busy

  • Write to scale conversations you have in person

  • Write to save other people time and mistakes

Write to learn…

  • You think you know something until you try writing about it

  • Learning to write is more important than learning to code

  • Get better at writing by writing

Confidence comes from having recovered from failure…

  • If you failed, you succeeded at giving yourself space to fail

  • Work on something you’d be proud of even if it failed

  • Don’t let the dogma of “failing fast” prevent you from succeeding slowly

Remember, seven billion people are competing for your job…

  • Work Hard

  • Edit excessively

  • Copy constantly

The reality is…

  • You can’t improve your past, your heroes are average, and life is too complex to have people tell you how to live it

  • (Growing older is a privilege denied to many)

  • (Your largest competitive advantage is your health)

Treat yourself well…

  • Surround yourself with happy people

  • Judge yourself based on your intention

  • Judge everyone else based on their behavior

Reflections on happiness…

  • Success teaches you success doesn’t make you happy

  • Happiness comes from understanding your unhappiness

  • Happiness is a choice for more people than would like to admit

  • When life gives you lemons, wash your hands…


PART TWO: APHORISMS AND ADVICE ON CAREER AND BUSINESS


Career

Most people don’t need more advice, they need more cheerleaders

Virtually everyone can make a living doing what they love

There are opportunities everywhere

Getting rich slowly is possible for almost everybody

Become a full-time anything:

  • Get really, really good

  • Create until you have an audience

  • Offer to teach people

  • Live modestly

One well-written blog post can take you farther than the most impressive CV

If you let others decide when you’re successful, you’re also letting them decide when you’re not

Some rooms look inaccessible. You may stare at the door for years, yearning for what's on the other side. And when you finally work up the courage to try the door, you realize it's unlocked.

I need help opening the door.

Have you tried opening it?

A future of work is remote. The future of work is choice

All work is remote, it’s just a question of how remote.

The most underrated skill to develop in any profession is intuition. It’s probably underrated because it can’t be taught. It comes only by trial and error

Being talented is like getting a 5-minute head start to a marathon

The best jobs aren't publicly listed. You have to dig for them, invent them, or convince someone it's worth creating just for you.

Competing with everyone: $10/hr

Competing with a few: $100/hr

Selling a product: $1,000/hr

Building equity: $10,000/hr

Making a market: $100,000/hr

It takes years to become a great engineer, designer, writer, painter. But it only takes days to become communicative, reliable, and nice to be around — which will put you above 90% of your peers

Creators often say they're scared of putting themselves out there. What we tell them:

  • Think of the dumb tweets you read last week.

  • Think of the meh paintings.

  • Think of the stupid videos.

  • Can't remember any? Neither will anyone else, about you. Just get started!

No one pays any attention to your mistakes. They are focused on their own

If you don’t have imposter syndrome, you’re probably an imposter

Many others can do what you're doing. You're actually doing it!

Your next big thing should render everything else on your resume insignificant

If you spend 100 hours on 100 different things, the 100th thing will be pretty good

If you spend 1 hour on 10,000 things, your 10,000th thing will be a masterpiece

A masterpiece is made masterful by 10,000 edits. It takes making 10,000 mistakes over thousands of works to be able to make those 10,000 edits within a single piece in any reasonable amount of time

Outliers pursue things that can’t be taught or bought, but rather what they discover on their own

Successful creators piece things together, then think to themselves, “other people should have to piece those things together”

If your impact is bottlenecked by time, change that first

  • Turn your time into skill

  • Your skill into authority

  • Your authority into an audience

  • Your audience into an income

  • Your income into freedom

  • And your freedom into others’ freedom

Behind every effortless display is a whole lot of effort

How to get better: pretend you are better than you are, until you are

Number one tip for new leaders, managers, and CEOs: spend a few minutes every day complimenting the people around you on their awesome work

If you’re not getting more confident, you’re getting less confident

Your last blog post, video, or painting did not take a few hours. It took your whole life!

You can launch yourself into the center of your favorite industry with a year's worth of deep research and a month spent writing one really great post

If someone makes something that feels unachievable to you, find the earlier work they did to lead them there

The longer it takes to become successful, the more prepared you will be to handle it

Worried about what people think about you? Don’t worry, they don't think about you


Business

The best businesses have yet to be built

If I shit on startups, I'll be right often but never successful

There’s a business that will turn your weaknesses into strengths. Though you might have to build it to find it.

Most CEOs are CEOs because they started the businesses they run, not because they are abnormally smart or qualified

The best interview is solving a problem together

Pay someone to do the work they would be doing if they get the job. If they are able to do it, they get the job.

Build for everyone and you build for no one

Build for one person and you build for thousands

You will be embarrassed of what you ship after a weekend.

You will be embarrassed of what you ship after nine years.

Ship

How to find the business for you, in 3 steps:

  1. Who do you care about?

  2. What problems do they have?

  3. How would you like to help?

Build your work around your life (don’t make your money your life)

Every fundraise is a failure

  • An admission that you aren’t able to do what you want with the money you have.

Every hire is a failure

  • An admission that you aren’t able to do what you want with the team you have

A marathon is a pretty weak analogy for doing a startup. More like a sailing competition:

  • Everyone brings their own boat

  • Can recruit from other boats at any time

  • Leaky holes everywhere

  • Three people are steering (eight are trying to)

  • Boat’s on fire

Investing in the stock market can turn $10,000 into $100,000

Investing in starting your own business can turn $1,000 into $1,000,000

  • Your first 100 customers will come through cold emails and warm intros.

  • The next 1,000 will come from their referrals.

  • You’ll reach 10,000 as your product slowly becomes the default for a use case

  • And 100,000 when it’s the default for a whole industry

If you don’t own capital in a capitalist economy, you are the capital.

If you want your product to be really, really great, it has to be really, really focused

What’s the worst part of your product? Make that better.

What’s the new worst part of your product? Make that better.

What’s the new worst...

Your product is so simple why did it take so long to build?

That's why!

  • Make the expensive cheap

  • Make the inaccessible accessible

  • Make the complex simple

  • Make the difficult easy

All companies raise money, it’s just a question of who they raise money from: owners, investors, or customers

Raising money feels like treading water. You can do it for a while but you’re always very aware something needs to change eventually... or you’ll die

All communication is asynchronous, it’s just a question of how delayed

If you're bootstrapping, you can still take advantage of venture capital by using all the VC-subsidized software available on the market

Some of the most successful startups were started because the founders couldn’t get jobs

It’s very unlikely that your first product will be any good

But it’s very likely that your tenth product will be, if you stick with it

Being a founder is great for personal growth, because if you don’t grow your business dies

If you are willing to spend 10+ years to build a sustainable business that matters, your odds of success go way up

Great software is created by people passionate about problems, not software

If you can do something without code, do it without code

The quality of a company’s employees is much more predictive of its success than the quality of its founders and investors

Your top users will think about your product less than 1% of the time


Meta

The opposite of a good idea is often another good idea

Best approximation of confidence might be elongating intervals between bouts of doubt

If you’re going to panic, panic early

Assuming the worst of someone can be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Same goes for assuming the best

Freedom is not needing anything from anyone

Peace is not wanting anything from anyone

Being able to help people is better motivation than any routine, plan, or life hack

Everything you do should help people enjoy life, or help people endure it

Stupid people credit being smart

Smart people credit being lucky

The best way to get something off your to-do list is to decide it's not worth doing anymore

If you “won” an argument, you lost

I think I’ve changed more minds since I stopped trying to

Humans are mimetic. Updating our status symbols may be the best way to create sustained systemic change

Sci-fi is not about the future. Fantasy is not about the past. They are both about the present

I have more ambition than before. I just don’t measure it by valuation or net worth

Everything needs to be improved, or it will die

The future is more evenly distributed than it’s ever been

Enough is a decision, not an amount

The most selfless people I know consider themselves very selfish

Stories often end where they begin - except the main character holds one less lie

The primary function of the conscious mind is to train the unconscious mind


This one took a bit!

If you'd like more Big Idea Summaries like this, please do join the email list.  

And follow me on Twitter! 

Sincerely, 

Justin