Note to readers: Hello world is a program developers run to check if a newly installed programming language is working alright. Startups and tech companies are continuously launching new software to run the real world. This column will attempt to be the "Hello World" for the real world.
Iddo Gino was only 18 when he raised $3.5 million to grow his company Rapid API. Billionaire entrepreneur and venture capitalist Peter Thiel made him a Thiel Fellow to drop out of school, and later Gino moved to the US from Israel, where he was raised.
Rapid API is now the world's largest hub for application programming interfaces (APIs are the software connectors that allow applications to talk to each other), and is among one of the most valued companies today.
A few weeks ago, when I talked to Iddo for a podcast, something struck me. Before starting the company, he was deeply involved in organizing Hacking Gen Y, where the idea was to get teenagers excited about programming by organizing hackathons. Participants would often build applications and win prizes.
Now I want to draw your attention to another entrepreneur: Abhinav Asthana. Back in 2012, Asthana was a coding intern at Yahoo in Bangalore. His job was to take APIs and make them shareable for developers. When he saw that it was a repetitive task, and it was difficult to test and debug APIs, he looked around for a solution that could help make it easier for users to manage APIs. Like many programmers, Asthana hung out on GitHub a fair bit. Asthana's company Postman is now used by over 500,000 companies, and is one of the world’s most valued startups.
And finally, here’s the story of Girish Mathrubootham, who has been in the news a lot this past week. Girish made history last week by becoming India’s first SaaS company to go public on the Nasdaq. Girish had been building software for nearly a decade before he started Freshworks. He’d just moved back from the US and had a frustrating experience with customer support at a big shipping company. It hit him that customer support was broken. Later, on Hacker News, a community for founders, programmers and hackers, he saw a comment that existing customer support software was too expensive and clunky. And that’s when he decided to build one from Chennai and sell it to the world.
Many wannapreneurs today spend too much time on social media and feel like they’re missing out on starting up themselves. The FOMO is real, and it drives them straight into the arms of purveyors of entrepreneurship porn. These threads, stories of ingenuity and innovation, are good for Twitter and LinkedIn. But as Naval Ravikant puts it, reject most advice, “They're just giving you their winning lottery ticket numbers.”
So where should wannapreneurs go for inspiration? If there’s one thing that stands out from the three examples I listed here, it is that the three entrepreneurs were deeply immersed in something much before they started their company. On top of that, they hung out in communities that are purposeful. This gave them a unique vantage, a clear understanding of the status quo and problems that plague a user base that has the potential to explode. It also offers immediate feedback from the community that often leads to greater conviction. Great companies are built on such insights and the unshakeable conviction that entrepreneurs get by hanging out.
In the past, great universities like Stanford University fostered such communities. It led to an entrepreneurial explosion at these places. But they were exclusive to their students, teachers and alumni. In today's world— you could be in Haifa, Bengaluru or Chennai—these valuable communities exist online. And these are the places wannapreneurs should be spending more time on. Not on social media where most of the content is often plagiarized, merely performative, or both.