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On Building Implicit vs. Explicit Value
Why young people shouldn't build a startup unless they're ready to fail big.
Recently, I’ve found it bittersweet (or even borderline hypocritical) to tell ambitious young people to not build a startup. On one side, building NeuraDAO was one of the most fun experiences of my life, but on the other side, we built something that didn’t add any value to the world. At our age (16-18) it made more sense to explore our curiosity rather than focus on a single project for 5-10 years.
What I’ve started to realize (and now articulate thanks to Zayn Patel!) is that building a startup as a young person has more implicit value than explicit value. For NeuraDAO, even though the actual project didn’t make sense to build I still had fun, met incredible friends, and got invaluable life experience from my time spent there.
Even though we were building NeuraDAO for the world, we created more implicit value for the founders and team, than explicit value for the neurotech industry. Once it was all said and done, our counterfactual impact was near-nothing, but the impact on us was life-changing.
I’m not saying that you should aim to fail, but instead, you should aim to do the hard things first. If your goal is to facilitate growth, then that’ll happen by pushing yourself to solve hard problems that people care about.
That being said, I don't believe that selling a service or a marginally better product in a competitive market (like customized water bottles) is the best way to spend your time if you want to facilitate growth as a tech founder. Unless you’re trying to get your MBA and do all that, I suggest staying away from that type of entrepreneurship.
Trying to solve a hard problem was the only reason why NeuraDAO was so valuable for my growth. As I was working on a problem that people cared about, that’s why people wanted to hear me talk, give me mentorship and maybe even funding. Now that NeuraDAO is sunset, I still get to keep all of the experiences and learnings that I had while building.
We were constantly trying to do the hard thing even though it might not have been feasible. Our vision was grandiose and exactly what you’d want when the only thing that you’re really risking is your time and opportunity cost. If you still live with your parents, literally everything is taken care of for you as you likely have no dependents or any real responsibilities. So you shouldn’t shy away from taking massive risks as you’re more derisked than adults are.
Basically, what I’m saying is: If you build a startup as a young person, you’ll likely create more implicit value for the founders than explicit value for the world. To maximize your implicit value, work on the hardest problem that you’re passionate about and grind with the balls-to-the-wall intensity that you ought to have as a young person.
Hope this helps you in the future when you do great things!
Certain people are exceptions to this. For example, take Jake Adler, he started neusleep at 17/18 and is dedicating his next 5-10 years (or possibly even his entire life) to revolutionizing the future of sleep. He’s an exception because he’s doubling down on neusleep (he’s not in school), solving a hard problem, and actually doing the hard parts himself. This brother is self-learning electrical engineering! That’s an insane level of dedication and why he’s an exception to this.
Quick tip for introducing yourself at events: Don’t mention your age until later in your conversation. You should be an interesting person to talk to because of your work, not because you’re a cute teenager. The WOW factor is 10x after 10 minutes into the conversation rather than 10 seconds.