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Long Game Companies

Achraf Ait Sidi Hammou

An interesting thought exercise I started practicing is finding the trilemma around you.

The common mistake is missing one dimension. The typical example is the “bootstrapped” vs “VC-backed” dichotomy.

The actual trilemma going on here is: Speed - Scale - Freedom.

The type of company I’m inspired by are the ones that sacrifice speed. They’re playing the long game, not trying to do a stunt (cashing out or making it into the Forbes 30 under 30 list).

Some examples that come to mind are: Shopify, Stripe, Notion, Github, Levels, Vital, Every.

I want to dig deeper into what makes these companies different, and what goes into the building of one.


Putting a dent in the universe

Apple was probably the most glaring example of such company.

We’re here to put a dent in the universe —Steve Jobs

Tobi shared the playbook on Twitter:

But it’s only the high-level view. Let’s get into the details.

From following Vital and Levels from very early on, here are some of the common patterns I’m seeing:

  1. Hire slowly: they are only picking people in the intersection of culture-fit, highly skilled and great thinker;
  2. Build the culture from day one: most startups are only thinking about culture once they reach the dunbar number and need tools to keep moving;
  3. Play positive-sum games only: typical startups are only trying to win zero-sum games. They are great for short-term success but they don’t compound into massive impact. When Levels decided to change their business model to align their incentives they are picking a win-win situation that doesn’t make them win now, but will give them a massive edge on the long run. When Square decided to give their POS hardware away for free, they are playing the long game. Every body wins. Unlike their competitors playing with margins (zero-sum game).
  4. Thought-leader founders.
  5. High decision-making skills: the way they differentiate from other competitors is by applying first-principle and second-order thinking. It’s not always about being right (eg. putting ads will lead to a drop in readership), but about integrity and coherence. Most startups just copy others’ strategies without understanding the underlying dynamics. Not them. They take the time to analyze what worked and why. They break it down until they have a clear model of what went into it. They don’t apply the final product. Instead, they infuse their new built knowledge into everything they do. That’s how they stay relevant and unique.

How to get there

  1. Follow your curiosities
  2. Try many different things (advice from many people like Sam Altman and Paul Graham)
  3. Long form writing to explore topics and develop clear thinking (that’s why I’m writing here 🥲)