Georgetown student launches ebook on startup success

While most of you were busy catching up on your beauty sleep this past winter break, Rahul Desai (MBS ’17), the CEO and co-founder of Trendify, was hard at work writing The First 30%. This 120-page ebook, which can now be accessed online in full for $10.00, focuses on the fundamental knowledge required for startup success.

Vox spoke with Desai to learn more about the book writing process as well as how this was shaped by his own entrepreneurial experience.

Vox: Writing a book while running Trendify must be a large time commitment; what inspired and motivated you to write the The First 30%?

Desai: Frankly, I love writing. People think it’s strange for an MSB student to be pursuing an English minor, but I am absolutely enamored with the English language. This is actually my third book, so it wasn’t as daunting a project as it might seem. I was really inspired by a guy named Blake Masters, who converted his lecture for a course taught by Peter Thiel (founder of PayPal & Palantir) into a book. That book is called Zero to One; it went on to become a bestseller. That definitely served as a major inspiration to me; I think it indicates that startups reflect the zeitgeist and that people want to gain a glimpse into that world. In regard to The First 30%, I wrote the whole thing in about three weeks, before and during winter break. Editing took three months, and now we’re finally ready to go.

Vox: Can you possibly explain the significance of the “first 30%”?

Desai: The book is titled The First 30% because it contains the 30% of generalized knowledge that the renowned startup investment fund Y Combinator teaches its portfolio companies. Every team that goes through YC’s program has that knowledge drilled into them; the other 70% of knowledge is specifically tailored to each company YC deals with. Obviously it helps no one to share extremely specific knowledge, so I wrote about the 30% of YC instruction that was generalizable.

Vox: What are the biggest myths about startups that you debunk in your book?

Desai: A lot of budding entrepreneurs think that strategy and planning aren’t terribly important at the earliest stages. That’s the exact opposite of the truth: you need to focus on your idea and team before you can focus on product and execution. I was chatting with a freshman entrepreneur on campus the other day and he told me that basically took the first technical cofounder that he could find. That can be a recipe for disaster. Successful companies last decades, which is longer than some marriages, so you need to pick your cofounder really carefully. Personally, my cofounder and CTO, Eamon Cagney (COL ’17), is brilliant and I wouldn’t trade him for anything.

Vox: How did Blake Masters’s course “How to Start A Startup” influence the book’s approach to explaining the startup process?

Desai: I took a lot of pointers from the way Blake Masters structured his work. He followed Thiel’s lectures in terms of content and their order while organizing his book. There were points at which I merged lectures by content. My main goal was to remove some of the redundancy that intrinsically crops up in lectures. Ultimately, the course focused on growing an idea/project into a startup and turning that startup into a company. I tried to be very faithful to the intended meanings of the lecturers, who are all startup legends in their own right.

Photo: Courtesy of Rahul Desai

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